I sat in our truck at the bottom of the mountain road, checking for an awaited phone call and sorting the mail I’d just picked up. One piece of mail in particular provoked a sigh. It had been long day; I was running late.
There’d been traffic in Charlottesville on my way to the grocery store, the construction-merging-and-inching-through-several-light-changes-to-pass-through-one-intersection kind of traffic. What could we do but wait attentively and be courteous? And we did, all of us as far as I could tell.
Before leaving the grocery store parking lot, I’d checked email on my phone and read a message from Keith: water was dripping from the main floor into the basement powder room, the likely culprit being the radiant floors serviced that morning then turned back on. I called our HVAC company and talked to the office manager who promised the owner-technician would call me back—the awaited call. I thanked her profusely.
Then while driving home, the truck’s low tire pressure indicator flashed on so I’d pulled into a full-service gas station. Down 2-3 pounds, the young attendant said as he checked each tire. How much do I owe you? I asked after he finished filling my tires. Nothing, he said, waving me on. Bless you, I said, my hand over my heart.
Now, sitting in the truck at the bottom of the mountain road, I fingered the important-looking letter addressed to my neighbor. Her address has the same last digits as ours so this was not the first time this had happened. But like some people in this rural area, she uses a P.O. box and doesn’t have a mailbox. I would have to hand-deliver her mail.
The younger me might have seen this as an opportunity to do a good deed, to prove to others that I am a good person. The glow of self-righteousness, polishing your halo, my mother would say. But cranky older me made a different selfish choice: the beleaguered, pitiful little person I also can be. Woe-is-Me sighed and thought, “I’ll have to take time out of my precious life to help a neighbor.” This after others had helped me.
“What spurs you on in that journey into love is actually the constant experience of your own lack of love: your impatience, irritation, or self-centeredness…. You will have them until the end of your life. They allow you to love God and others by reason of a Larger Love flowing through you, not because ‘you’ are doing it right or even know how to love!” (Richard Rohr, A Spring Within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations, p. 364)
At the end of The Christmas Carol, Scrooge declares: “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”
And the Spirits will teach lessons—if I choose to learn them. But when the past comes alive, it sometimes dictates present behavior in a less than loving way. The glow of Christmas fades, and Scrooge returns to his cold austerity, whose familiarity might actually feel comforting—his version of my pitiful little person.
Sitting in the truck at the bottom of the mountain, I waved Woe-is-Me away and delivered the letter to my neighbor’s house. Then, after pulling the truck into the garage, putting away the groceries, and plugging in the Christmas tree lights, I received the awaited call. Our HVAC expert told Keith how to cut off the water to the system and said he’d return the next day to fix it—and he did, an old construction error, drywall and tile repairs to follow.
What lesson had I learned from this series of minor inconveniences? Scrooge is still Scrooge, and I am still myself. Thus, I start every day reading scripture and praying, trying to honor Christmas in my heart.