With Christmas as the backdrop, Jeffrey teaches his Mom about what is important in Life
By Donna Lowich
It’s Christmas 1986. The Christmas tree is resplendent in its ornaments and lights; they blink on and off with their reflection glittering in the beautifully wrapped gifts below the tree. Five-year-old Jeffrey is dancing around the tree, singing “The Christmas tree is SO-O-O much bigger than last year!”, always emphasizing the “SO-O-O”.
I enjoyed watching him having fun. His enthusiasm and excitement were really something to behold! Jeffrey turned to me, his huge chocolate-brown eyes brimming with excitement and shining with happiness. “Isn’t the tree beautiful and much bigger than last year’s tree, Mommy?” True enough, it was a big, beautiful tree. And, it WAS a much bigger tree than last year’s tree. Or, at least that’s what I’ve been told.
Christmas 1985 is not even a memory for me. I had just undergone two spinal cord surgeries. I was paralyzed from the shoulders down, and due to other complications, I don’t have any recollection of that holiday. My husband, Walter, knew that Jeffrey needed to have Christmas, but all he could manage was a table-top tree. He tried to make it festive, but it was very difficult for both of them. Hence, Jeffrey’s exuberance this year. I was home, and we were going to have a festive Christmas. No wonder the tree seemed so big…
I, too, was so happy to be home! After all, that had been my main focus for the six months I had been in the hospital and then in the rehab center. But I always had it in mind that when I came home, everything would be as it used to be. But it wasn’t, and that bothered me. I was disappointed in myself because, while I was still making progress, it was slow and I was not nearly where I had expected to be in my recovery. It was not anger so much as it was frustration with myself.
With these thoughts in mind, I got up slowly from my chair and made my way to the stairs. Jeffrey stopped singing and I knew he was watching me as I struggled to climb the stairs. I heard quick little running steps. I turned, and he was there, right there next to me. He was always there when I needed him.
He held my hand. Looking directly at me, he said, “Sometimes I wish it was me…”
Gripped by the power of his words, I hugged him tightly, burying my face in his wavy brown hair, squeezing my eyes shut to fight back the tears.
‘Oh, NO, Jeffrey, NO!” is all I could manage before he began to speak again.
“That way, you could carry me up the stairs.” Now his eyes were brimming with tears. He looked down at the floor, saying, “I can’t carry you.”
Those words of love, a child’s love, so symbolic of the season, jolted me like nothing else could. In an instant, it changed everything for me--from melancholy to a deep sense of gratitude, love and peace. No, things were not the same as they once were, but now I realized just how unimportant that truly was. To this day, when my frustrations get the better of me (as they sometimes do) my thoughts go back to that moment in time, when my five-year-old son taught me a very powerful and poignant lesson. Nothing like a little role reversal to keep one’s priorities straight!
I spoke to Jeffrey with the only words I could find to say,“No matter what, Jeffrey, I will always be your Mommy, and I will always be here for you. I love you, Jeffrey. Merry Christmas, my little Professor.”
He was my professor, you see, for he was continually teaching me Life’s important lessons. He looked up at me, and smiled. While I was frustrated with my lot in life, he saw through all that and was happy just to have me home again. Simple and straightforward--the truth always is--it sometimes takes a child to pinpoint it with such uncanny accuracy.
I looked over at the Christmas tree. It had assumed a new aura of the warmth, the peace and the beauty that the Christmas season brings to us. It absolutely glowed with love--love of family, love of life itself. It was there all the time; I just needed the love and selflessness of a five-year-old boy to teach me that lesson.
Jeffrey had just taught me that it wasn’t important that I couldn’t walk very far or do things quite like I used to. It WAS important that I had been given the chance to be home with my family at Christmas. I was given so much more than was ever taken away. I now knew that. And that is Jeffrey’s gift, the sweetest gift of all, wrapped in the beauty of a little boy's unconditional love.
Thank you, Jeffrey. Merry Christmas, my little Professor.