“I can dance! I can jump! I can run! I can work! I can play!” so sings the ecstatic Amahl, the lame shepherd boy, in Gian Carlo Menotti’s one-act opera for children of all ages, Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951).

Set in Bethlehem, a fiery star, “as big as a window,” lures Amahl into the December hills where he pipes his heart out, one melody after another. An impossible dreamer, he frequently frustrates his widowed mother, further impoverished by the recent sale of their sheep. Piercing cold, hunger, no fire in their hearth, only sleep’s oblivion keeps death at bay. However, from out of the night emerge Melchior, Kaspar, and Balthazar, kings/astrologers and their page, seeking lodging in this widow’s hovel. Stories of their star-quest for another king quicken Amahl. Like their visitors, he will bring a gift, his crutch, all that he owns. In that decision, his withered leg throbs with new wholeness. He stands tall. He will have a life. He sings.

What was it that compelled Amahl to disregard the need for his crutch, without which he remained immobile, this reckless heart-gesture that gave its all? What did he see in that moment? What empowerment that changed everything?

Unfortunately, many of us still hold on to crutches, of whatever stripe, to inch us through challenges, to enhance functioning, to conceal our human foibles from others and ourselves. What would it be like to stride free from such hobbling compulsions and enjoy the sun’s warmth on our backs?

Perhaps in 2019, we’ll find out. May it be a very Happy New Year for you and your loved ones!

 

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“Hey, Liz! Santa’s coming over at 7:30! Wanna come?” The invitation pierced the soggy gloom. It was my neighbor, emerging from her car with both hands weighted with holiday bags stuffed with toys. Across the street white lights swathed an evergreen tree and outlined the roof of another bungalow. It felt like the whole world was holding its breath.

“Sloane and Clark can’t wait. There’ll be other kids, too,” she added, her boots squishing the bent grass as she approached me.

The little kid within, stirred: Memories of waiting in line for Santa, of Mother unbuttoning my snowsuit and removing the knit cap from my brown hair electrified by the dry air. The music and jingling bells, jumbled pieces of chatter, babies crying—all disconcerted me. I was leery. Only my hand in Mother’s could contain my flip-flop feelings. Each Christmas, we rode the trolley downtown to enjoy the animated windows encircling St. Louis’s Famous-Barr Department Store, then to visit Santa. I was always glad to return home.

I was next. Within moments, arms hoisted me upon Santa’s lap, his whiskers brushing my cheek. My words dried up.

Then it was over until the next Christmas, the box of paper dolls with blunt scissors under my arms.

It seems like the greatest gifts are sourced within terrifying moments as if to strip us of securities that stunt spiritual growth. That’s been my experience, gratitude only coming later, with new lessons learned.

 

 

Skeletal fingers disembowel fevered spirits, agonizing for a fix before the next holiday bash—and there are many, in the glitziest of venues. Desperation sours puke, hiccoughs frenzy the chest, joints scream in pain. Too chicken-hearted to opt for death, there seems no way out.

But there is—for those willing to change. It’s all about waking up to the full implications of our humanness, rife with loss. Within such losses that knee us before a Power greater than ourselves, we sense a faint voice emerging from our depths: so unlike the carping one with the bullwhip. We sink back on our haunches. We listen. Tears pool our eyes. Chests stop heaving. Hands fold in prayer. Something akin to peace surfaces like a fragrant lotus blossom: its glossy pink bespeaks Joy.

And then it’s over. Still on our haunches, we slip to the floor and prostate ourselves beneath the mantel of silence. We have been visited and we know it, but its memory mandates action.

Nothing left for us but to pick up our cell and call for help. It’s out there, even during the holidays.

 

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