and so this is christmas

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, first edition illustration by John Leech in 1843

Every year we get together with our surrogate family for Christmas dinner.

Two years ago I made my husband go without me. I was too miserable to face anyone. My mother (93 with Alzheimer's, who we cared for in our home, putting her needs ahead of ours for five difficult years) had just been legally kidnapped by my only sibling. I was beside myself with worry and woe. I refused to see a soul.

Today the misery was in the hearts of others. The mother of a brilliant 4.1 student who had just started college on a full scholarship, came home to find her perfect son passed out on the sofa with a bong and a bottle. When I confided this to my husband he said "Well that's normal." But for our friend it was the end of her world. All evening she wept in her wine and stared me down from six inches crying, "Tell me what to do!"

One sweet and wonderful young man, recently diagnosed as bipolar, has been learning to cope and balance heavy meds, social situations, not to mention raging hormones and, although he appeared to be doing well, you know that he too had to be going through hell.

The woman who graciously opened her home to all of us the past few years, had just fled the country for legal reasons. Her two children were there trying to carry on Christmas without her for the first time.

A very old and dear friend of my husband's made dinner for everyone at his apartment in a valiant effort to preserve the tradition. He is about to lose his business and hasn't a penny to his name.

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, first edition illustration by John Leech in 1843

As we finished our ravioli, listening to one despairing rant after another, I quietly began to sing: and so this is Christmas. Everyone burst out laughing and merriment was restored. Hail humor! What would we do without it?

We didn't give gifts this year, but I got one anyhow. I learned that everyone has troubles that can't or shouldn't always be hidden away. If your friends are your friends, they will put up with you no matter how miserable you are. Back in the quiet little trailer we call home, my husband and I held each other and agreed we possess a fortune. Christmas doesn't always come wrapped in fine paper.