One afternoon recently on a walk along a neighbouring street, James and I noticed that there was a big red bow on every tree in front of every house. “Someone must have gone door to door asking neighbours if they’d like a Christmas bow on their trees,” James said. “Either that or they all got together and decided to do it,” I replied. No matter how it came about, the street looked beautiful and cheery. We continued on our walk, but an idea had been planted in James’s mind.
When we got home, he said that, inspired by what he saw, he was going to do the same on our street. So off he went shopping and came home with ten big red Christmas bows. We live on a quiet residential street in a rather conservative neighbourhood where people basically keep to themselves. Now we have James going door to door asking people if they would like a Christmas bow on the tree in their front yard. Everyone agreed. Some asked how much the bow cost, but James told them it was his Christmas gift to them and to the neighbourhood.
When he came home after that first delivery, I told him that he was offering miracles––expressions of love––to people we didn’t even know or know well.
As we went for our daily walk later that day, the neighbourhood already looked much cheerier. However, there were still some trees without bows, so James went out shopping again and came home with ten more bows.
Now it gets really interesting––or perhaps I should say, really “miraculous.” James had covered most of the neighbouring houses except…
On the corner lived a woman with whom we didn’t engage much. We would say “hello” as we passed by, but we didn’t stop because we knew we’d have a hard time disengaging ourselves because she tended to go on and on without stopping. However, he realized that he had to offer her a bow, not only because the tree in the front of her house looked bereft, but also because it was the loving thing to do. (James is a very loving person!)
So, off he went and knocked on her door. When she saw him with the bow, even before he had a chance to say anything, she said, “I saw the bows on all the trees and wondered why no one had come to put a bow on my tree.” Gulp! She was overjoyed to have one now. The next day, when we were out for our walk, she was in her yard, and when she saw us, she was eager to tell James, “I was so touched by what you are doing, that I went right in and made a donation to the Ottawa Mission (a local homeless shelter).
Next on the list was a man two doors up from us who could be easily described as a “curmudgeon.” (Let’s call him “John.”) John keeps to himself, almost barricaded in a sterile-looking house. He’s not well-liked on the street because he always seems to be complaining to neighbours about this or that. He’s well-known to the city bylaw officers because he’s always calling them to come and deliver some ultimatum to a neighbour. One neighbour who lived next to him even moved because he couldn’t stand the harassment. We stop and say hello to him if he’s outside, but that’s been the extent of our contact with him.
James had knocked on his door several times to ask him if he’d like a bow but he had not answered James’s knock, even if his car was in the driveway. This day, it happened to be that John was just pulling into his driveway when James set out on his Christmas bow deliveries, so John couldn’t ignore him. James was surprised when John greeted him in a friendly way and even asked about me. When James told him why he had stopped by, John said, “Well, you know I’m an atheist.” James said, “Okay; but you still enjoy holidays, don’t you?” To that, John said “Yes,” and then, “Okay; I’ll take a bow. We are all neighbours after all, aren’t we?” James was stunned as was I when he reported this to me later. This in itself was obviously a miracle. Just a simple and friendly expression of love elicited a change in this seeming curmudgeon. So now John has a lovely red bow on his maple tree and, we hope, he feels more a part of our neighbourhood.
Later, when James stopped at a house across from John’s, the woman gladly accepted a bow and then said, “I noticed that there’s a bow on the tree in front of John’s house. How did that happen? It’s out of character for him. He’s so unfriendly!”
As James progressed up the street, he came to a house he had been avoiding. In this house lived a family of Christian fundamentalists and ultra-conservatives who were vocal and visible about their views. (I have to admit that we have had our judgements about them and their very rigid viewpoints.) So now what does James do? You’re right: He goes up to their door and rings the bell. When one of the residents comes to the door, he says, “Sure!” when James asks him if he’d like a bow on his tree. So now the tree in front of their house also has a bow on it!
When James came home today after delivering his last bow, I asked him how he felt about his experience. He said that it seemed so natural. “We’re Course students, aren’t we? We’re called to give miracles. They don’t have to be big and flashy. A smile or a “Hello” in passing, or a bow on a neighbour’s tree given with love is still a miracle. I’m sure that the miracles I gave will be passed on in some form. At least one already has been. Plus, I have received as much as I have given.”
I have been so deeply affected by all this. Sure, James has made our street look Christmassy, bright and cheery, but something more significant has happened. He has not only delivered Christmas bows to our neighbours, but he has also offered them miracles. He has overlooked differences, gone beyond judgements, and seen everyone as deserving of love––and he’s offered them that love. And isn’t this what Christmas is all about?
Jesus says that the only gift he wants of us at Christmas time and always is the gift of release and union––and he wants us to give that gift to all our brothers (T-15.IX.8:7-10). James, in the simple act of offering Christmas bows to our neighbours, released them from his perceptions and judgements, went beyond seeing them as separate and apart, and gave them the gift of union. He has also given me a beautiful gift this Christmas––a demonstration of the true meaning of Christmas. I doubt that either one of us will look on our neighbours in quite the same way again.
P.S. This is the pièce-de-résistance, the icing on the cake: James ran out of bows again (he’s up to twenty or so) and so had all the stores. So, now what does he do? He buys a roll of red Christmas ribbon and is making bows himself so that no one else on the street will have to go without!
With love and blessings this Christmas time and always!