Tom Matlack sees people crying around the holidays and remembers a time when he just wanted Christmas to go away. He’s glad it didn’t.
I’ve been to church a lot recently, not because I am particularly religious. It’s just that time of year: advent. Along with the carols, lights, trees, and sugar cookies I’ve begun to notice people crying.
And not just a few.
The first was an older woman. The service was just winding down with a final hymn when she leaned forward, put her face into her hands and began sobbing hysterically. It was that silence cry that gets stuck in your throat and shakes your entire body. Nobody else seemed to notice.
Then I snuck into the back pew for a late afternoon service of “Lesson and Carols.” The choir was singing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” accompanied by a trumpet. Just in front of us was a woman with three boys, the eldest with hair down to the middle of his back and the youngest rambunctious enough to attempt a jailbreak.
I sang with my wife as our boy played on my iPhone. And as I looked up all I could see was a huge tear on the mom’s face as it rolled down her cheek, followed by another and another. I couldn’t take my eyes off her pain.
As with the older woman I had no way of knowing why this woman was crying.
Had she lost her husband?
Was she divorced?
Was one of her children sick or, god forbid, absent?
I asked our zany minister Joel about what I had witnessed at the parish feast afterwards. He reminded me of how much symbolism gets crushed into the Christmas season. People stir up memories of their childhood, of what has gone right and what has gone wrong in their lives.
“We just try to guide their eyes to the heavens,” he said, “but I do know if tears come God is present.”
Seeing so many people so emotional on Christmas made me recall years in the not too distant past when my life was in such dis-array that all I could do was weep, in agony and confusion. I wanted so badly for the whole thing—Christmas, my life, all the happy people—to just go away.
But they didn’t. People saw my pain and comforted me. And over the years things have gotten better. I no longer cry in the face of joy. I can take it in and be grateful for my many blessings.
So that’s what I want to say to those who I witnessed crying in church, and those who are sobbing where ever you are: I see you. I am not averting my gaze. Christmas isn’t about Santa to me. It’s about human caring, one for another. If you believe that is in the name of the birth of Christ, that’s fine. But you really don’t have to.