It was Christmas Eve in the year of our lord 1999. Loneliness had settled in like a cold winter fog and lay heavy on my soul. I lived a great life; a life to be envied. I was the shooting sports manager on a huge ranch in the high desert of northwestern Colorado. I had a brand new log house all to myself high up in the mouth of a coulee behind the strawberry creek. I was constantly surrounded by all manner of wild life. I had a weasel that ran back and forth on the railings of my back porch; I had seen both bears and lions as close as the back paddock. The last time my son flew out, we counted seventy-two mule deer buck between the house and the main lodge. All this against a backdrop of unbelievable majestic splendor, but it was Christmas and spending it alone hurt deep in my bones.
When I awoke on Christmas morning, the absence of sounds was deafening. No sound of coffee drip, drip, drizzling into the pot. No sound of young voices calling “Dad, is it time yet?” No sound of the gentle breathing of a good woman sleeping worn out from weeks of making so much out of so little. I had no strength to push the button and fill the house with Christmas music. Even the sound of my own footsteps fell dead on the hickory-wood floor. Outside there were no heavenly hosts proclaiming good tidings of great joy. I dressed for the chill of the morning, heated up a cup of yesterday’s coffee, and headed outside to split and stack some wood. I figured this would help me stay busy and keep the blues from totally taking over the day. Mother Teresa said the United States is the most impoverished nation in the world because we have the poverty of loneliness. Although I had never seriously considered it for myself, I could understand why the suicide rate spikes this time of year.
I had worked about an hour when I noticed a red F350 tuning off the main road and coming up my driveway. To put this in perspective, my drive way hit the main road just after it turned to dirt. My drive was just under a mile long and consisted of rock blasted from a nearby rock ledge, and was a bit rough to say the least. In short, no one just happened to be passing by; one had to get there from somewhere else.
Western ranchers come in all shapes and sizes, but you can always tell one when you see them and this man fit the bill to a tee. He hadn’t sent the hired hand; he had come himself.
He took a few steps in my direction and said, Merry Christmas! Are you Doug”?
I acknowledged that I was.
“What are you doing for Christmas dinner”?
I told him I was planning to heat up some chili. He told me that just wasn’t going to work and I would be eating at his house. He gave me directions and said to come around twelve and come hungry and that we would probably eat around two.
It took me about twenty minutes to get to his place, so he hadn’t come from just around the corner. I had mixed feeling about eating Christmas dinner with strangers, but figured it couldn’t be any worse than my own company. The house was a western ranch house; not to be mistaken for the plastic version we have here in the east. There was something over twenty people inside laughing and joking like my family always did before my parents sold the homestead. Children of all sizes ran around filled with the excitement of the season. The air in the house smelled wonderful.
This year will be sixty-seven Christmases for me and that one ranks in the top five. This will be the thirteenth Christmas that Pat and I have spent together and you can’t be around Pat at Christmas time without catching the fever and I thank God for her and my many other blessings, but sometimes even I forget that there are others all around us that do not have the joy of the season.
I am not trying to preach here, but this year can we remember the reason for the season? When we take our own on a holiday hunt can we invite some boy or girl who has no one to take them? Can we share the abundance with which God has trusted us? Can we not spend so lavishly on our own and maybe slip a little cash in an envelope to share with a needy stranger? To all my friends who spend time surrounded with God’s creation, can we take time to reflect on who He is and let that be reflected in how we approach this wondrous time of year?
“Bread Upon the Water” was reprinted with permission. To purchase the book from which this piece comes, SMOKE ON THE WIND by Doug Deats, contact Pat Kidd at firstname.lastname@example.org.