I woke up early on Wednesday, December 24, 2014, Christmas Eve. I had no plans for today…or tomorrow, for that matter. I am single with no children. My sisters and brother are in Kansas while I’m in California. My close friends are celebrating with their own families. I don’t have a tree or lights or presents. I wasn’t concerned, though. Many of my Christmases have been spent this way. Though I dream of some day celebrating Christmas in all of its traditional glory, this Christmas Eve began as just an ordinary day. I decided to start my day with my usual diet coke at the local McDonald’s.
I walked up to the counter and the clerk smiled at me. “Large diet coke again this morning?” he says as he greets me. They know me here. I work at the trade school in the same commerce area. I come here to decompress in between classes.
“Yes,” I answered, “but I think I’ll have breakfast this morning, too. I’ll also have a Sausage McMuffin.”
“Good,” the clerk smiles as he punches a button on the register. “That will be $1.29.” I look at him in bewilderment for just a moment. The man just continues to smile. “The drink is on me this morning. Happy Holidays!”
I smile and thank him profusely as I hand him my money. I get my food and drink and sit at a booth in the back. I take out my book and eat as I read. I linger for a while even after I have finished my meal. It’s nice to relax and read without having to hurry back to my students this morning.
Suddenly, my mind was dragged away from my book as I heard a loud booming voice. “Not what is expected,” the strong bass voice sang out. I watch as a heavy set, bearded, dark haired man in a dirty, black t-shirt and jeans sits down a few booths away from me. I think for a moment that he is listening to music. I thought he was singing out to music on an iPod, and for a moment, I am jealous. I have always wanted to sing in public places. But I never can. I immediately choke on the notes as soon as I hear the sound of my own singing voice. So now, I watched the man intently as he continues to sing and suddenly I realize that he wasn’t listening to any music. There were no devices around him providing sound. And now he has begun to shout instead of sing. “Not what is expected,” is no longer a tune but a deep menacing demand. I suddenly thought that maybe I should leave now. Being a woman alone, I feel intimidated in situations like this. But I couldn’t stop watching this man as I wondered to myself, why do I sometimes confuse different with danger?. I don’t get up from the table; I don’t leave. Instead of being afraid, I am mesmerized today. I listen to the man as he continues to sing/shout, completely oblivious to the people around him.
Suddenly the man got up from his table and walked over to my booth. He suddenly stopped and looked at me. “Do you have some change?” he asked. “I need some food.”
I stared at the man for a moment, and then I opened my purse. I kept the contents shielded from his view as I pulled out a few crumpled dollars. “I don’t have any more than this to give you,” I told him and he was grateful. He smiled and accepted the money. He thanked me and walked away. I watched as he walked over to another table and asked a woman with two small kids for a few dollars. She, too, opened her purse and handed him some money.
As the man walked away from the woman, an elderly gentleman who was sitting a table away from me suddenly called out to an employee who was cleaning tables in the dining room. “You always let people like that in here?” the elderly gentleman demanded.
His question triggered my own. “How would you define ‘people like that’? What does that mean?” I wanted to ask him. But I didn’t confront the gentleman. Instead, I wanted to laugh. Here I was sitting in McDonald’s with my large bag full of books and journals. I wore no makeup, did not fix my hair. I was wearing my old gray sweats and a large oversized pullover. I smiled as I thought, That guy could be talking about me! People like that….
I felt tears burn my eyes then as I sipped my free drink. I considered the man in the dirty, black t-shirt. I considered this day, Christmas Eve. Someone had given to me in my unkempt, messy, unattractive state…and I had given to someone else. And so it goes…Christmas Eve…and I suddenly understood the meaning of Christmas better this year than I ever had before.
A few minutes later, I decided to leave. I grabbed my bag and headed for the exit. A small girl was leaning on the door holding it open for the customers. I smiled at the child who couldn’t have been more than 7-years-old. “Are you holding the door for everyone today?” I asked her and the child looked up at me as she smiled and shook her head. “That’s very nice of you,” I said. “Thank you so much.” Her only response was another big smile. I know I have been blessed today…And so it goes…on and on…the innocent giving….the glory of the Christmas season.