What is Real Today

The man sitting behind me whispers the rosary and wheezes.  He’s loud but it becomes a kind of background music.

The people in front of us are old.  Older than we are.  Most of them live in the senior housing across the street, so they walk.  The children aren’t here this morning; with an afternoon Mass on Christmas Eve, it gives the families an opportunity to spend Christmas morning together at home.

This is the church where we were married, seventeen years ago.  It sits on a hill.   This church stood above the floodwaters of March 2010, when the Pawtuxet River turned into a lake.  It used to be known as the French church, when the village of Natick thrived with mill activity.  Down the street is the Italian church, with a CVS separating the two structures.  We’ve been away from this church; now we’re back.

Our pastor is old.  He moves slowly on the altar, lighting candles and turning on the pre-recorded carols.  We learn later that he’s endured radiation treatment.  He looks good.

One of our neighbors is here, with his wife.  Last year, he was hit by a car.  When he walks, his body is crooked.  Just before Communion, he faints, which halts the distribution of hosts to us while some of the men tend to him.  Someone calls a rescue from his cell phone, but our neighbor tells everyone he’ll be alright.  His wife pats him on the back.

I say some prayers for Jonnie, who is at the Hasbro Children’s Hospital ICU, after a BB gun accident on Christmas Eve.  He’s so young, and a beautiful, happy boy.  He is foremost in my thoughts this morning.  Later, I find out from his mom that he is better, but it’s still a waiting game.  All those jokes from “A Christmas Story” seem horribly lame and inappropriate.

We are a small family.  There are two elders, one tethered to a bottle of oxygen, one who doesn’t hear well so we speak loudly.  We give thanks for the things we have and remember that there are people alone today.  Some who wish to be alone, some who want company more than food.  But we find reason to be happy, to laugh and smile.  And we drink wine and eat good food and groan afterwards.

And then we drive home in the dark.  Someone puts a small lighted deer at the edge of a cliff above the highway.  It stands alone, and we look forward to seeing him.  He watches over us as we find our way home.

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