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We are our brother’s keeper
This afternoon I sat, red pen in hand, editing an op-ed by Barbara Curtis titled “What does it mean to be our brother’s keeper?” (Check it out in our Sept. 27 issue). Halfway through the first page, images of a Christmas several years ago filled my mind.
It was Christmas Eve in a large hospital and a wooden hand-carved Nativity sat on a metal table where medicine, Kleenex and nurses’ charts usually were kept. It was after 10 p.m. and the room was dim except for a florescent movable lamp that cast a circle of light onto the Holy Family.
My dad, two sisters and I — unshowered, hungry and drained — gathered around the bed where my mom lay and listened to our longtime friend Father Brady celebrate Mass.
I’ve attended Masses in Assisi, Italy, and at the Vatican, but never before or since have I felt the sacredness I felt that night in that hospital room. We were sad, but we were together celebrating something hopeful, mystical and comforting — something we’d known since before we could remember.
After Mass, my dad stayed in the room with my mom, while my two sisters and I drove home to our empty house. No one had purchased any presents that year and we hadn’t the heart to decorate more than a tree.
We turned the corner of our block, expecting to see our dark house, a gloomy presence on a block lit up with icicle lights and glowing inflatable snowmen.
We noticed the Christmas tree lights were on, sparkling through the front window. Surprised, but thinking maybe we’d left them on, we walked inside.
There, under our tree, were piles and piles of presents. In the middle of the room on our coffee table was a large basket of wine, chocolates and small gifts wrapped in tissue paper. There was no note, no evidence of who had spent the time and money to buy the gifts, of who had snuck into our house so that the three of us could have a warm, bright, cheerful home to come back to on Christmas Eve, even as our mom was dying.
St. Nicholas, my mother’s favorite saint, was known secretly to give money and gifts to poor children. That night, we were the recipients of that spirit of generosity.
My sisters and I sat down on our couch, amazed, and cried. For a moment, the emotion of sadness was replaced by an overwhelming sense of the love of others.
Thank you, Barbara Cutis, for reminding me of that night. Yes, we are our brother’s keeper, and what a powerful, beautiful gift that is.