This was an especially hectic Christmas season.
It came on the heels of a particularly busy time at work, with me staying until 8:00 or later pretty much one night a week for the past couple months in an effort to keep our project on schedule. In previous years, things slowed down int he office as the end of the year approached, but in 2016, we were hard at it right up until Friday the 23rd.
Then it was off to Rocky Mountain House for a chance to visit with Audrey's sister and her family. Then back the next day for the Christmas Eve service at church, in which Audrey was singing with the choir and I was responsible for arranging the communion elements.
The next morning it was off to Leduc, to spend Christmas Day with my sister and her family, and, for only the second time in over ten years, my Mum!
We overnighted there and then returned home on Boxing Day, having the 27th to ourselves before packing up again and heading down to High River. Audrey's Mum had turned 80, and her brother had set up a big party that ended up becoming a combination open house and family reunion.
After that, we headed back to Edmonton, but brought Audrey's other sister from Ontario with us for a visit. It was wonderful to have her, especially for the two nieces she always wants to see more of, and she headed back today.
So, yes, a bit of an Xmas whirlwind, complicated by the fact that I started out virtually exhausted, and didn't just become that way over time. As a result, none of us are particularly keen on returning to our normal routines at work and school.
I had been extremely apprehensive in the days leading up to Christmas, but an offhand comment at the grocery store on the 22nd helped me to keep things in perspective.
When I picked up the bread for communion that Thursday night on my way home from work, I discovered that we were short on the juice we use in place of wine. My own fault, really, and I have subsequently begun labeling the bottles "COMMUNION". (Should that fail to have the desired effect, I believe I still have some biohazard decals lurking about.) Still, it meant yet another stop on my way home after a tiresome day, at busy supermarket full of increasingly frantic shoppers finishing their holiday preparations.
I couldn't even find the juice I wanted, and grabbed what I hoped would be an acceptable substitute, then headed to the cashier with the shortest lineup. As the cashier rang up my purchase, she asked me if I was finished my own preparations for Christmas.
"I suppose so," I said. "We're frightfully busy this year, travelling to three different towns in six days over Christmas, but on the plus side, we don't have to host this year." In truth, this was the first time that aspect had occurred to me, and it felt encouraging.
My clerk nodded in agreement and completed our transaction. She handed me my receipt, saying cheerily, "That's good, you deserve to be pampered."
I thanked her and began walking out to the parking lot, considering her words as I trudged towards the Flex. I was a bit consternated, in truth. How the hell does a stranger know what I deserve? I thought bitterly. I certainly hope I didn't earn this hectic Christmas schedule for something I did or didn't do!
I opened the door and swung the grocery bags into the back seat. What does deserve have to do with anything anyways? How can you tell someone what they deserve when you know nothing about their situation? I started the engine and threw the Flex into gear; I could feel myself getting upset, which was ridiculous.
Calm down, I told myself. You're right, she doesn't know you; that's the kind of comment she probably says to dozens of people a day. Who's to say who actually deserves it...
...unless everyone does.
The thought leapt unbidden to my mind and settled there, like the raven on the bust of Pallas in Poe's poem.
Maybe it's true because everyone deserves to be pampered every once in a while, whether or not they've been a polite gentleman or a surly bastard, or maybe even sometimes because of it.
Maybe every single individual not only deserves it from time to time, but needs to be reminded of that fact, as I had just been.
It was an astonishing and seasonally appropriate reminder of the power of grace; this notion that good things can come into our life even though we mightn't feel we earned them.
Whether you attribute their origins to the divine, or kismet, or simply blind chance, I think it still behooves us to remember them with a sense of gratitude, and most importantly of all, to pass them on wherever we can.
Reflecting on it in that snowy parking lot, that simple statement from an anonymous cashier in a busy grocery store did as much to ensure I had a Merry Christmas as any other single event or thing. I would hate to forget it, so I am committing it to writing here.
To remind me to always be aware of grace in my life, and to be grateful.