Gratitude and Christmas

My friends and I are at that age where we’re too old to be kids, and not mature enough to call ourselves adults. While noting the difference between Christmastime as a child and Christmastime now, in this weird pseudo-adult phase, a friend told me, “You know you’re an adult when what you want for Christmas can’t be bought or put under the tree.”

It’s funny to think that 10, 15 years ago, the Christmas season seemed so long to me. Wrapping paper and candy cane borders covered the corkboards at school. Construction paper Christmas trees and cardboard cutout snowmen lined the hallways. My evening car rides to swim team were spent watching the festively illuminated houses pass my frosty window. Christmas carols floated away with the foggy breaths of my girl scout troop as we made our way through town. The warm aroma of baking sugar cookies drifted through the house as we decorated our little cookie-cutter reindeer with sugar crystals and too much icing. Glitter would inevitably end up everywhere inside my house during the holiday parties, when we restless children would abandon the “make your own ornament” table, run amuck, and play games. (Oh, my poor and brave mother…) My sister and I tugged on much-hated tights to wear under our fancy dresses, picked out special to wear to Christmas mass. And, of course, anticipation seemed to stretch each magical minute of the season to twice its usual length, filled with an omnipresent hope and excitement that I’d find that one special thing under the tree.

This year, I felt the season completely passed me by. Maybe it was the lack of snow in a region that’s usually blanketed by this time. Maybe it was focusing so aggressively on schoolwork and finals that kept me from enjoying the little things of the season. More likely, it was the time spent grieving national, local, and personal tragedies. This year, there was little excitement, celebrating, or cheer. Instead, there seems to be a lot of blinking back tears, holding heads in our hands, and asking, “Why?”

When I go to bed tonight, I won’t be straining to hear for reindeer hooves on the roof; or Santa’s hands rustling the tree branches, heavily laden with ornaments created from Decembers past. My stomach won’t be full of butterflies as I toss, turn, and sigh at the clock as it ticks closer to dawn. My feet will hit the floor this Christmas morning at a much later hour than they did more than half-a-lifetime ago. What I truly want won’t be found under the tree; it’ll be found around it.

I want the same things now that I–and everyone else–want the rest of the year: love, friendship, acceptance, and happiness. Maybe, because of the recent shakings and trials of life, my need for these things is a bit stronger. This year, I’ll be fortunate to spend half of the day with my biological family, and the other half with my EMS family. Each of them serves as a source of joy, laughter, frustration, love, and strength. Through smiles and tears, they are there. Nothing has made that more evident than these past few weeks. My gratitude for such a blessing could never really be put into words.

I’m grateful for what I have. And I’m grateful that my losses weren’t worse.

Finally, my heart, thoughts, and prayers go out to anyone fighting through a tough loss this holiday season–especially the families, victims, and first responders of Hurricane Sandy, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and the Webster fire department shooting. May you find some comfort soon.

Belated Christmas Post

I was kind of lucky this year. I got to spend Christmas morning at home with my family, and then worked with my second family in the afternoon. What’s more, there was no shortage of calls. We average 3 or 4 calls over 24 hours. Christmas, we had 12. 12! Yes, I know, some of you are scoffing. Because you run 12 calls in one shift, including getting punched in the arm, spat on by the loony frequent flyer, vomited on by the drunk college  kid, getting stuck by a few dirty needles, fixing your broken down truck with duct tape and a patient’s scrunchie, and then you go home, fix yourself an omelette, crack open a beer, and think to yourself, “My, what an easy day I’ve had.” But, for tiny little Grover’s Corners, 12 calls is a busy day!

Anyway, where was I going with this?

Oh right. We ran 12 calls, AND managed to cook and enjoy a Christmas dinner in between! Merry Christmas to  us.

One of our calls took place at one of our local retirement homes. We responded, and weaved our stretcher and crew past the weary, distant stares of residents; and through the nervous, concerned throngs of families. While waiting for the elevator, we noticed the decorated tree in the corner, and the colored lights strung around the walls. An electric menorah glowed on the table with the sign-in book. A cork board had been covered with green wrapping paper. Tacked to it were cards, flyers, a paper describing HIPAA, and tiny clear packets of crumbling miniature candy canes. Ordinarily, the place is dreary and bland at best. But the staff were doing their best to fill the place with a little holiday cheer. I mentally applauded their attempt.

The elevator took us upstairs, and a nurse directed us to a room to pick up a patient. We did our thing in the usual way, albeit maybe with more smiles, considering the day. We left the room and prepared to go back to the elevator. A middle aged woman, wearing a holiday themed turtleneck, watched us carefully. I exchanged a glance with her, nodded in a greeting, and redirected my attention towards moving the stretcher. As we waited at the nurse’s station for the patient’s information packet, the woman took another step closer to me.

“Thank you for what you do. Especially for working Christmas,” She said quietly. I was taken aback by her words, and the undeniable sincerity within them. She looked me dead in the eyes, making certain I heard and understood them. Her gaze shifted to each of my partners, locking eyes with each of them in turn, delivering the same unexpected message. “Thank you,” She said again.

I blushed and smiled. My discomfort wanted my eyes to wander, as I searched for something to say. Thank you? For working on Christmas? It hardly seemed like anything to be thanked for.

 “No, thank you,” was the only thing I could think to say. “Merry Christmas.”

People say this is a thankless job. Some days, and some calls, I would agree with that. But usually, I would disagree. I get thanked fairly often. Although usually, it’s the kind of thank you that you say to someone who holds the door for you when your arms are full of groceries. Or the thank you that you say to the waiter who brings you  your food. It’s quick, polite, and of course you mean it. In those moments, you really are grateful that they did whatever they did. But the thought and the sentiment is fleeting. Often, a patient thanks us when we transfer them over to the hospital bed. They say thank you, and I grin and say, “Feel better, Mrs. Jones.” And more often than not, we forget about each other in a few minutes.

But those who say this is a thankless job probably understand that. What they most likely mean is that they do not get truly thanked. And this is true. It’s not often that we are met with a true, from-the-bottom-of-the-heart, genuine “thank you.” I can’t say that it bothers me. But every now and again, I am met with that meaningful, significant, honest “thank you.” And it’s those moments that make me glow with an accomplished, happy, slightly embarrassed warmth. And suddenly the gratitude is truly mutual.

It quite possibly could have been one of the best Christmas presents I got all day.