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In 1970 my friends and I were getting grossly drunk on Christmas Eve. I make no apology for that. I was in Vietnam and there was to be a Christmas Truce. Since we would have no “work” the next day, we were giving ourselves the gift of a few hours of oblivion from the tedium and trials of a never ending year. At midnight the sounds of “Silent Night” started to come over the airfield speakers, sung by the congregation of the post chapel.

Eerily, everything else became quiet. First those on guard in the bunkers (because they were more sober), and then everyone else joined in.  As the verses went on, and the words became less familiar, the unsolicited singing tapered off into murmurs. The choir finished with a beauty I can find no words to put to measure.

I have had my highs and lows, my good Christmases and bad, before and since. Still, I can think of no isolated five-minute period of my life that captures the duality of life so clearly. I have never been so acutely homesick, miserable and lonely, as in those few minutes, but I also felt a Community of Spirit larger than all others.

Love can be defined as “a joining with another, or others, in a mutual experience so powerful no words can depict it, and for which no words are needed.” I have never been in such a large group of complete understanding, as when I looked around at the faces of the five or six guys who were drinking with me. We spent a few moments in complete silence, each knowing there was no way to describe the intensity of our wants, and that while the specific wants were different, the intensity of the hunger was the same.

The turmoil between joy and sorrow is the drama of life. Without conflict there would be no prose or poetry. It is not easy to see the positive in the midst of the negative. Clouds remain clouds until a person is capable of penetrating them to find the silver lining. However, I would offer, sad stories only remain sad because the teller or the listener does not finish.

There can always be hope if we are allowed to turn the next page of life. No matter your religion, the story of the First Christmas is one of gloom if you do not read past the Day of the Cross. An innocent baby born, lives a good life and dies in pain and ridicule, because of misunderstandings and prejudice. Hardly a plot I would presume to base one of the world’s major religions on.

But our existence tells me that that story is not finished. The great gift of the Christmas story is that each of us gets to turn our own page to tomorrow.

It is hard not to think of gifts at Christmas time. I have been given many wonderful things. I am never at home unless I can quickly point to an object and say “this or that marvelous person gave it to me.” But I have been given further gifts, so portable, that if I am wise, I should never lose.

Those are moments of understanding I have felt with another. Sometimes to grand they can hardly be hinted at. Sometimes fleeting and beautiful in their smallness and words become too ugly and large.

I have seen others laugh or cry at words I have laughed or cried at while writing. I have shared a silent laugh with another over an inappropriate body noise. I have felt the comfort of another sleeping in my arms, and I know the comfort of Grace. I have the  knowledge that while I was not my best yesterday, or today, I am free to be better tomorrow.

Blessings to all.