In the distance the church bell rang what was intended to be a song of jubilation and triumph. But there was no joy for the old man, ignored and forgotten by the people who hurried past him.
“Merry Christmas!” a co-worker called out as he opened the driver side door to his own car. The old man ignored the cheerful greeting. The younger man stared after him a moment, then got in his car and drove away.
The old man continued, but just as he was about to reach his car, he saw something lying forlornly on the ground. Curious, he stooped down and picked up a red tulip, strangely out of place in the winter snow.
The old man carried the flower to a nearby bench and sat down, staring at the tulip. It didn’t occur to him to wonder how it came to be there. All he could do is stare at it with tears filling his eyes, the red blurring almost to obscurity.
How long had it been since he’d spent Christmas with his family? How did he come to be so abandoned? In his mind he could almost hear his kids running down the stairs calling out in jubilation and anticipation to discover the mysteries inside the packages that had been lying under the joyful tree for a month. Sylvia, his wife, always made sure they had a great Christmas.
Everyone was gone now, but the old man. He lifted his eyes toward the low, heavy clouds as they salted him with white snowflakes. His face was hot, trying to keep his overwhelmed heart from letting a stream of tears come down his face.
He should be going home to Sylvia and the kids with families by now, but there was no one, and he dreaded going home. They’d been gone many years, but even after so long, it was always hardest to go home at Christmas. Always. Nothing, not even the television on full volume, could drown out the overwhelming silence of his house.
She loved tulips, Sylvia. He loved giving them to her. His sigh was almost an audible groan as he missed the woman who loved him better than any other. They were taken away too soon; too soon.
The streets and parking lot were now empty except for his car. He shivered and stood, getting ready for the inevitable long drive home and long, sad, weekend.
The crunching of a vehicle driving slowly toward him went unnoticed by the old man. He fitted his key into the door lock, but was suddenly startled. Someone touched his shoulder, and he jumped, almost expecting his wife.
“Do you want to come over for the weekend?”
The man who’d wished him Merry Christmas returned after driving a little way down the street.
“I’m busy,” the old man growled at him. “Besides, you don’t want me to intrude on your Christmas holiday.”
“We have plenty of room, and none of our kids are able to come home. My wife told me she was going to miss not having them for Christmas.”
“An old man like me isn’t a good substitute for your kids.”
“I’ve already called her and asked her what she thought. She’s expecting you.”
Glancing at the tulip, still in his hand, he suddenly decided to accept the invitation. Anything was better than the solitude of another Christmas, alone.
“I can follow you to your house so you can get what you need, then we can go to mine together and Monday we’ll go to work.”
It seemed to the younger man that not even this kind invitation could soften the old man. He watched him get into his car, and then the young man got into his own.
What he didn't know was that the kindness did soften the old heart more than even the old man expected. Still, he could not smile. Smiles had become foreign to his face.
As the older man pulled out and headed to his home, he kept glancing in the rear view mirror, reminding himself the car behind him was actually someone he knew, someone who went out of his way to alleviate his loneliness.
Soon, he pulled into his driveway, went into the house and packed enough things to get him through the weekend and to work on Monday. He got in the younger man's car and they drove away.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. It heralds a season in which we celebrate family, friends, togetherness and all the good things God has given to us.
But for many, it also represents the beginning of the most depressing time of year; a time where many feel forgotten and unwanted.
Is there someone in your life who is lonely, forgotten and feels unwanted?
One of the reasons we are here on this earth is to reach out with the kind of love Jesus exemplified to those in our world who may need a touch, a smile or a kind invitation.
And sometimes those who are most difficult to love are the ones who are in the most pain. Perhaps those people are the ones who need a touch most of all.
Take a chance, reach out to someone this holiday season, whether it is now – for Thanksgiving – or throughout the Christmas season.
You might not be glad you did, but then again....