So This is Christmas

sothisischristmasLast Christmas was special – and this Christmas, even more. But in both cases, it’s my first Christmas home. Last year was my first Christmas out of prison, and this year is my first Christmas living at home with my wife and daughter. And in both instances, I feel just a little more loved.

So perhaps next Christmas will be even better still. As I mentioned in “Crash Course,” my wife’s family asked that I not attend their Christmas Day family gathering. So be it – very well – I understand – etc. Honestly, I’ve grown so accustomed to losing people that it’s become somewhat routine. However, when losing people becomes the norm, the opposite becomes all-the-more sweet.

It’s Christmas Eve. So, of course, I was among the masses of last minute desperation shoppers, trying to adequately convey the affection I hold for my loved ones in the form of material gifts – Merry Christmas. And as I walked into Dillon’s to find something small and cute to fill my wife’s stocking, I strolled with brisk intent toward an aisle that looked promising. And that’s when I heard someone say my name.

Here’s the thing: When this person said my name as she passed in front of me, she said, “Kurt Michael?” In college, I ran track, and there were two of us named Kurt on the same relay. So in order to avoid the confusion and give myself a little bit more of a unique and individual nom de plume (or whatever the “personality” equivalent would be), I began going by Kurt Michael. Thus, when she said “Kurt Michael,” as I passed her in the grocery store, it automatically triggered my memory reference to someone I knew in college.

Typically when people from my past see me in public (who “know about me”) they pretend not to see me or give me an awkward look. (Some people don’t know. I’ve twice seen a former student who works at a sporting goods store, and when I was in last week, she asked, “So, you still teach at East?”) So when I saw this woman I’d known over a decade ago in college, I wasn’t sure what to expect. She stopped and spoke to me like an old friend, which immediately led me to assume that she hadn’t seen the news during the week I was the top story. And as we exchanged pleasantries and held a brief “how have you been” conversation, I just decided to flat-out ask, “So, do you know about me?” And she nodded in that way that people do when they want to say “I understand” without using words. And a few seconds later, she said, “You’re my friend, and I just figured that you made some bad decisions.” I didn’t outwardly indicate this, but when she said that, I was absolutely floored. People never see me that way. And this is someone with whom I hadn’t had a conversation in years! We were friends in college and both worked in education afterwards, and then, there she was, on Christmas Eve, standing in a crowded grocery store with me, telling me in so-many-words that she accepted me as a person, regardless of what I’d done or who I used to be.

My “best friend” (and now my Archenemy) doesn’t accept me like that. My wife’s family doesn’t accept me like that. My former co-workers and educators don’t accept me like that. My “buddies” from college don’t accept me like that. But this woman – whom I hadn’t seen in years – did, and she wasn’t afraid to tell me, right there in the store.

She probably just saw it as a chance to say “Hi” to an old friend, but I don’t think she will ever know how much that brief exchange meant to me. We exchanged numbers, though I doubt we’ll ever talk. But the fact that she stood there and told me that she didn’t think less of me because of the terrible choices of my past – that felt like a Christmas present from God. This has been a busy Christmas, but I think that one conversation is the singular event of the season that I will remember for a long time. Because sometimes, an inconsequential act to one person is a monumental act to someone else. So this is Christmas, and that’s what Christmas is all about.