I squeezed the mic tightly. And then a little tighter. I looked out over the sea of crowd, but it was all just random blurs of color through my tears. I swallowed, looked down, closed my eyes, and squeezed again. But I just couldn’t do it…how could I?
The music began and filled my ears and it felt like a punch of reality. I was here. I was crying. But I had to sing. I shifted and the make-shift stage squeaked beneath me. I told myself to get it together, but my mind felt numb with impossible sadness and my throat was so tight that singing was a joke, even if I wanted to.
I heard the last few beats of the song’s intro play, and managed to look over at the young man sitting on the stool. Damien. Fourteen years old, but fighting a sickness in him and bigger than him. Damien. Brain cancer had robbed his speech, but not his songs. The surgery could remove much, but not the scriptures or songs he’d memorized before it.
I blinked. And took a gulping breath. But before I could squeeze the notes out…I heard him. Beautifully from the heart: “There is strength within the sorrow, there is beauty in our tears.”
Strength and willpower suddenly rose up in me and I joined him in singing the song. I still don’t know how I did that. Or especially how he did, for that matter. But we sang the song and I could almost hear hearts breaking…and hope rising all around me.
Just a few days earlier his mom had been helping him limp into a church, and I was following. He turned and struggled to hold the door open for me, smiling the whole time. I don’t melt easily. But right then I felt like a puddle on the floor.
The doctors have many words, but not the kind that anyone wants to hear. Damien’s family are pretty much just waiting. They’re at home and living day-by-day. Keeping him comfortable and maintaining his headaches is pretty much all they can do to help him. But in spite of this, the faith that Damien and his family has is beyond any hymn book. It’s real, breathing, and doesn’t depend on the breath of Damien. It’s trust, no matter the outcome. One can’t help but feel inspired when they see this valiant faith right in front of their eyes…if they can see past their tears.
But now it’s Christmas time; and I still can’t forget.
Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy. A time of celebration and laughter and warmth. A time filled with marshmallows and fuzzy slippers and warming hearts; a time of cozy evenings by the fire, baking Christmas cookies with family, and turning up the Christmas music. But there’s also a darker side to this season that no one talks about. Christmas is also a deadly time where fatal accidents and organ donations soar. All that we call life can be taken from us in the blink of an eye.
And it’s a sobering thought.
This same time of year that is commercialized as the “most wonderful time” can also be the hardest. When the Christmas meal is just broken relationships in the same room, when all Christmas means is cold nights on a park bench. For the inmate who’s cell is as cold as his lonely heart, for the wife who’s husband doesn’t know how to be a Godly man…this is also Christmas. This is real life.
And we want to reverse it because it’s sad. Maybe we can stop it. Maybe we can hold onto these novelties we can see and touch and know. What if we could close our eyes and squeeze our fists and believe it all away? But we can’t. Because much of what we see doesn’t actually matter. So whether your Christmas looks like a celebration or a struggle, let’s not forget. Like Damian, remember true joy isn’t based on an outcome.
Alisha Mullett (for the Mullett family)