Last year’s Christmas consisted of an unexpected dinner party. This year’s Christmas was like a New Year’s Eve celebration–and New Year’s was like Christmas. But at this Christmas dinner, just like last Christmas, what might be called a miracle occurred.
In December, I received another surprise email from the same old friend who contacted me around the same time last year, except this year, he was writing from an airport in Ethiopia, so I couldn’t invite him to Christmas dinner again. I couldn’t have invited him anyway, since we were planning to go to Texas to celebrate because our goddaughter was going to be there for her first Christmas without her mother.
Whitley’s aunt and uncle, who now live in the family’s country house (which was built over a hundred years ago by his great- grandmother) host an annual Christmas Day dinner to which everyone in his large, extended family is invited. Several other relatives host dinner parties on Christmas Eve and Christmas day as well, so one can hop from party to party, eating and drinking at each stop. Whitley’s aunt was kind enough to invite our goddaughter to the family dinner, so I knew she’d have a place to go on Christmas day.
First we were stopped off at a Christmas Eve cocktail party given by another of Whitley’s relatives, and while we were there, we met up with some of his cousins. One set of cousins invited us to dinner that night and another set invited us to THEIR Christmas party the next day, so when we finally met up with our goddaughter on Christmas morning, we already had two parties to attend.
We invited her along to the first party, which was given by cousins who might be described as "hippies," since they run a very successful nature preserve and musicians always stop by their get-togethers. This time, a Rastafarian guitar player came, and he and the son played duets together while the rest of us sang and swayed (and ate and drank). When it was time to leave for the dinner party given by the more staid relatives, we realized that our goddaughter was having too good a time to leave, so we bid her goodbye and went to our second party of the evening to eat and drink some more.
This was a buffet-style dinner, so after filling my plate, I looked for a place to sit at the huge dining table. I saw an empty place next to the priest who had been invited, so I sat down there. I’ve noticed that priests are often avoided at such events, probably because people are nervous about talking to them. But the priests I’ve known over the years have heard and seen it all, so I figure I can relax: while I might make them mad, there’s no way I can shock or offend them.
This man had been an ex-Air Force chaplain, so this was even more true in his case. After chatting with him for awhile, I decided he might like to hear about my meeting with an angel in a Kinko’s copy shop and he was fascinated. I thought, "Well, I’ve given him some material for a future homily."
When I thought about our goddaughter who was (I hoped) having a great time at that other party, I realized that I should share that story too, so I told him how I had felt an urgent need to get into contact with her again, almost as if she was "calling" me, about a year before her mother became ill and eventually died. This meant that Whitley and I were already in place as surrogate parents for her when she needed us.
He REALLY liked that story and I suddenly realized that I had inadvertently given him an important Christmas gift: I had validated his faith by relating the story of a miracle. It was a small one, to be sure, but it was a miracle all the same.
After staying a couple of hours, we returned to the party where our goddaughter was still enjoying herself and discovered that the music was now going strong, so we stayed there awhile longer.
When we finally staggered back to our hotel, it was 2 a.m.! We had partied on Christmas day as if it was New Year’s Eve.
In contrast, we spent New Year’s at the house of some dear old friends. We drank champagne and watched the New York New Year’s Eve celebration on TV. When the ball dropped in New York, we decided that was fine with us, even though Texas had an hour to go before midnight. We all wished each other Happy New Year and went to bed.
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