by Father Mark Goldasich
Ah, Kansas! You never fail to surprise. Where else can you go from a balmy temperature of 72 to a freezing 27 in just a few hours? Mix in a hint of snow on Tuesday and I found myself curled up and rereading this story from the late, great, Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko:
Slats Grobnik, who sold Christmas trees, noticed one couple on the hunt for a Christmas tree. The guy was skinny with a big Adam’s apple, and she was kind of pretty. Both wore clothes from the bottom of the bin of the Salvation Army store.
After bypassing trees that were too expensive, they found a Scotch pine that was OK on one side but pretty bare on the other. Then they picked up another tree that was not much better — full on one side, scraggly on the other. She whispered something, and he asked if $3 would be OK. Slats figured both trees wouldn’t sell, so he agreed.
A few days later, Slats was walking down the street and saw a beautiful tree in the couple’s apartment. It was thick and well rounded. He knocked on their door, and they told him how they had pushed the two trees together where the branches were thin. They then tied the trunks together. The branches overlapped and formed a tree so thick you couldn’t see the wire. Slats described it as “a tiny forest of its own.”
“So that’s the secret,” Slats asserts. “You take two trees that aren’t perfect, that have flaws . . . that maybe nobody else would want. If you put them together just right, you can come up with something really beautiful.” (Found in “1001 Illustrations That Connect” by Craig Bri- an Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof, general editors.)
Yes, the holiday season is creeping up on us. In addition to nonstop commercials urging us to shop, these days conjure up images of people coming together, often to eat. And preparing for those guests involves a lot of work. Sadly, that task of organizing things usually falls on the shoulders of one or two people. I’ve already heard a few of my parishioners worrying about how they’ll get everything done in time for Thanksgiving dinner at their home.
I always feel sorry for the host and hostess of these gatherings. I wonder if they themselves ever get to really enjoy these celebrations.
By the time these parties or dinners roll around, they’re exhausted with all that has gone into getting things — the house, the food, the family — ready. And then there’s the cleanup when things are done. Maybe that’s just the way things are, but it still bothers me.
Calling to mind the image of those “wedded trees” in Royko’s story might help some. No one person should have to face the hosting all alone. The trees remind us that we’re more beautiful and stronger when we’re bound together. As guests, we should go out of our way to see what we can do to make things go smoother, to ensure that the hosts have time to sit down, rest and enjoy their visitors and the fruits of their labor. It could be as simple as other members of the family offering to each bring a dish or to come over and help set things up, or baby-sit the little ones for a bit, or stick around and do the dishes, or chip in to put the house back in order. Perhaps the hosts will decline these offers, but simply knowing that others are aware of all the work that goes into making a gathering festive can make even exhausting work seem less taxing.
At the very least, a handwritten, heartfelt thankyou note to the hosts should be the first task of each guest when they arrive back at their homes.
Perhaps the best response, though, is to imitate the hosts’ hospitality — not necessarily in a reciprocal way, but to seek out instead those who may feel like “scraggly branches”: the poor, lonely, struggling or worrying people in our families, parishes, workplaces, classrooms or communities.
Adopt a family for Christmas this year, donate to Toys for Tots, bake some treats for an elderly neighbor, go caroling at a nursing home, participate in a drive to collect winter clothing, slip a food gift card to a street person or, better yet, sit down and share a meal with them.
Any act of hope, compassion, generosity and solidarity will warm up a frigid, dark, 27-degree day to a sunny, bright 72.
And that, indeed, would be something truly beautiful.