From the time, I was a small child, Christmas was my favorite holiday. My Grandmother, Nennie, and Grandfather, PaPa, always hosted our entire extended family at their family farm and I thought it was the most spectacular time of the year.
One year, though, while my husband, Larry, fought in the Vietnam war, I spent Christmas at the Menninger Clinic, waging my own battle with clinical depression. Instead of feeling joy and awe, I felt worry. I pined for Larry, afraid he’d never come home, and I missed our baby, Laura.
Besides, I hated having to open Christmas presents under the supervision of a mental health aide. The aide handed me a pair of scissors to cut through the wrapping paper, ribbons and tape, explaining that she was required to supervise my use of the sharp object. I felt like a prisoner. After she left, I sat in my room, feeling sorry for myself.
After a while spent staring at a handmade polyester pantsuit, one of my gifts from my mother and the babysitter who was taking care of Laura while Larry and I were on our own private journeys, I summoned up the will to leave the room. It was, after all, my most beloved season.
I dressed in the royal blue pantsuit, combed my hair, put on my makeup and joined the other patients in the lounge. As I entered the room, I found the anticipation and excitement that filled the air contagious and began to feel better. The other patients at the clinic were all abuzz about the special Christmas meal prepared by the dining room staff. Several patients who had experienced two or more Christmas dinners at Menninger described the decorations and fantastic food we would encounter as soon as we stepped into the dining room.
Soon, we found out they were right; the meal was superb and there was a true feeling of comradery among the staff and patients. I’ll never forget the spectacular Cherries Jubilee, a dessert I had never encountered. I vowed to eat it again and again.
After our meal, feeling homesick, I wandered into a small patient library and scanned through several old books on the shelves. I discovered one that described how my favorite Christmas carol, “Silent Night,” was written, a story I had never heard.
The book explained how the organ in St. Nicholas Church in Overndorf, a small village in the Austrian Alps, had broken down just before Christmas Eve. Making the best of the situation, assistant priest Joseph Mohr dug out a poem he had written years earlier and rushed to musician Franz Gruber’s door, requesting that he write a melody on his guitar, to go along with the words. Despite the lack of an organ, the church service that night still had beautiful music.
Reading this story about “Silent Night” is a sign, I thought, a small miracle and a nugget of hope when I needed one. “Silent Night” and the story of its beginnings were God’s gift to me that Christmas.
(c) Tyra Manning 2017