(you’ve been warned)
Yesterday on the way to work, listening to NPR, as I’m wont to do, I heard a story from thetakeaway.org that left me hopping mad.
It is a story entitled, “A Christmas Treasure Buried for a Century,” and detailed a discovery which a modern apartment-dweller in New York City made, and the response he had to this unearthed treasure.
I listened to the sonorous voices describing the un-bricking of an old hearth, and the letters to Santa found there from early last century. Little Alfred pleaded for a fire truck with an extending ladder on Christmas Even in 1905, and sweet older sister Mary’s wished that Santa bring them each “what ever you think best”–as the wagon wished for by Alfred, she wrote to Santa, “I know that you cannot afford.” The interviewee, and indeed, I assume, much of the audience–as I was–was most touched by Mary’s postscript on the letter dated December 24, 1907: “Please do not forget the poor.”
Truly, it brought tears to my eyes in the morning traffic, and my mind immediately finished the radio story for them: surely, inspired by these destitute children with their innocent Christmas wishes, the man started a charity, or found an Angel Tree program, or bought a red radio flyer wagon every year and gave it away at the local homeless shelter. What a glorious way to make Mary’s wish come true from more than a century ago! My mind and heart were rapturous–I thought of the significance of that little girl’s humility, how her words resonated through a century and ended up affecting the lives of the poor in New York City decades later. Isn’t that just the way Christmas stories ought to be? Perhaps Alfred didn’t get his Radio Flyer, but this tenant in the 21st century finally brought the plea to fruition!
Oh my friends, if only.
Instead, as you may listen here for yourselves: CLICK HERE, this was not the lesson extrapolated by Mr. Mattaliano, but instead, he bought himself a Raggedy Ann doll, and a tiny red wagon, which adorn his mantlepiece each holiday season. Because they lost their father at an early age, and he did too, he feels a kinship to these characters from the past, and has even followed up with how they died and where they were laid to rest.
The story closed with Mr. Mattaliano recounting how meaningful it was to visit Mary’s grave and to plant a Christmas tree nearby. I couldn’t help but wonder what this Mary who asked for the poor to be remembered might think of the time and money put into burying a scrub near her tombstone, rather than putting dolls into the arms of needy children still alive today.
What kind of society have we created that one’s mind continues to seek the inner self, continues to look to one’s own particularity and one’s own connections to a history rather than looking outward? This man surely suffered similar sorts of feelings of loss, and similar challenges as these young people from the 1900’s, but instead of noting that there are still today fatherless children and single mothers, children with very little to enjoy over the holidays (let alone very little to eat without school lunch programs in session), Mr. Mattaliano (and thetakeaway.org for that matter!) champion a wasteful, literally navel-gazing response–buying toys as decor for oneself, full stop.
When did we lose the ability to notice that Mary and Alfred are always with us? That the little children from downtown NYC in the 1900’s no longer need our toys or our attention, but there are plenty of little children in downtown NYC (and in your own downtown, where ever you are) in 2000’s who need your toys, your attention, your time, your food, your love.
We are not all so different. We are not all so unique. We are all connected throughout time and space, and while on this Christmas Eve, you may be suffering the fifth Christmas of not speaking to your brother, or the first Christmas without your grandfather, or the same old Christmas emptiness and leanness that you have known every year of your life. Where ever you are and whatever you are suffering, you are not alone, and you, too, have something to offer to your neighbor, your family, your friend, or even a stranger–maybe even somewhere safe to spend the night.
Virgin Mary Icon via Jim Forest/Flickr
Red Radio Flyer Wagon via Wes Peck/Flickr