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Pauline Lerner

December 25, 2004 at 4:29 AM

Ghosts of Christmas past:

My friend Jan called me and told me that she'd like to go to a Xmas eve service with me. Neither of us is religious but we both like the singing and the candlelight and the hope in the darkness. Douglas and I met her at the church. Towards the end of the service, in the darkened sanctuary, I stood between Douglas and Jan, each of us with a lit candle in his or her hand, each singing. I felt the love well up over me from both sides. A high water mark.

It had been a crazy year and an unusual Xmas. A number of bad things had happened to me that year, culminating with the death of my father about two weeks before Xmas. I flew to Denver to visit my long lost friend Suzanne for Xmas. We had been good friends back in high school, about 25 years before, and we hadn't seen each other in about 15 years. We drove up, up into the mountains and returned barely in time for Xmas Eve service. I drove her to church early, in time for choir rehearsal, and went home and took a nap. I was not feeling well, the result of too much to eat, too much excitement, too little sleep, and too little oxygen. (Denver is at an altitude of about 5200 ft.) I slept later than I had intended and woke up feeling awful. If I hadn't promised Suzanne to meet her in church, I would have stayed in bed. I went to church and sat down just behind a father and daughter, about six years old. I thought, "I want my Daddy back" and cried through the rest of the service. It was the first time I had been able to cry for my father. The service ended and people got up and hugged each other, but I cried for a while longer before joining in the hugging.

I was alone at Xmas time and feeling very lonely. I called my friend Dottie and told her that I'd like to go to Xmas Eve service at her church and hear her sing in the choir. It was cold out and the bus just wouldn't come, so I bummed a ride to the Metro station with a stranger. I took the train and walked several blocks to the church, in spite of my almost complete lack of a sense of direction. When I entered the church, the service was already in progress. I slipped into a seat in the very last row, started crying, and cried through the rest of the service.

Many tears later, I'm still looking for the hope and the love in the darkness.

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