When I was a teen our church youth group was invited to sing at a Christmas concert at Disneyland. The choir director read the invitation and we went ballistic. The event would be televised and a noted celebrity would speak before we performed. And the best part was having the run of the park afterwards. For a kid from a family of seven children, this was a great big hairy deal. And one of my sisters was in the choir too, so I had someone to pal around with in case no one wanted my company.
After the initial shock we didn’t waste any time getting our voices into shape. “Noel, Sing We Clear” was to be the spectacular opening number, and I can still pretty much sing the lyrics. It brings to mind the narrow step I had to stand on and my dark blue choir robe tickling my ankles. Our final practice was at the Disneyland Hotel with all the other choirs. It was all so good.
This is the part of Christmas we romanticize. I mean,
Disneyland, come on. The lights, the glitz and shine of
it all along with the monster Christmas tree in the square, free rides, famous
people and maybe getting noticed by members of the opposite sex – what could be
better? Well, there was one fly in the ointment.
Her name was Naomi; shy, freckled but friendly, and almost invisible to the rest of us. I liked her but her personality type was so different from my own outgoing cheerfulness that I didn’t pay her much mind. I didn’t even know what had happened until a week after our wonderful Disney holiday romp. And it came sailing through the church grapevine – to my mother.
After school one day I flopped on her bed, where she was reading.
“Was Naomi at the concert?” Mom asked.
“I spoke with her mother this morning.”
Uh oh, what was this about? I remembered seeing Naomi, but that’s all.
“She’s dropping out of youth group and the choir.”
“Wow, she is? Why?”
“After the performance when all of you kids went off into the park, she was alone. She walked around all by herself for hours until her mom picked her up.”
My religious upbringing came on like gangbusters demanding I feel guilty.
“Is there a reason you didn’t ask her to go around with you and your sister?” Mom asked.
“I thought she’d go off with somebody else.” Somebody nerdy like her. Nice but nerdy Naomi, who was definitely no boy magnet. A guilt cloud hovered in the corner.
“Her mother said she cried for days about it. She never wants to see any of you again.”
Yikes. That cloud in the corner came in for the kill, and in my mind I frantically reached for excuses. Had I’d done anything overtly to hurt this girl? I kind of remembered her standing alone after the concert, not sure of her next move as the rest of us partnered up, happy and excited. Did I smile at her? It would have been so easy for us to invite her along. But that nerd thing – ugh.
“Imagine if that were you,” Mom continued.
“I always try to be nice to her, though” I countered. “Maybe she’ll come back.”
“I don’t think so.”
As the days closed in on Christmas the episode faded. I felt bad but stuff happens, you know? None of us saw Naomi again.
I know what Christmas is really about. I knew it then, too. As much as I enjoy the secular glittery part of the holiday, I know its origins lie with a man whose lowly birth went unnoticed – like Naomi. He grew up to teach love, humility and grace to those around him. And he would have been disappointed in my dismissal of a girl who only wanted to have the same adventure I did. To this day I am ashamed.
I will always love Christmas both ways; the romance of it, the glitz and shine of decorated trees, wrapped packages, jolly red Santas and every other bit. But what I learned from that particular Christmas – that there are lonely people everywhere and at Christmastime it hurts extra – is now hardwired into my brain. And let me tell you that what I learned from that experience has traveled down the years.
I wish there was a way to let Naomi know that she had a part in deepening my understanding of love, humility and grace. That the Boy in that manger gently and miraculously reached out and touched me through her. My hope and prayer is that she has many friends now and that she hasn’t had a single lonely Christmas in all the years since.
I hope the same for you.
Image: Free Digital Photos