Christopher MacNeil tells the story of his personal fall and ultimate rise and reconciliation.
“A rebirth out of spiritual adversity causes us to become new creatures.” – James E. Faust
Santa Claus wasn’t there for the little boy who was lost in a house that wasn’t a home. Beneath the red-and-white suit with the thick black belt was a threatening fat man who reminded the little boy of the pain the belt could cause and that he wouldn’t get the presents he asked for because he didn’t deserve them.
Santa never disappointed the little boy’s expectations.
The fat guy was anxiously greeted by other kids in the house Christmas morning, however, usually with a reminder to be quiet until Daddy was able to get out of bed from the drunk he tied on the night before.
Santa wasn’t there at all for the little boy when he grew into adolescent teenager and young man. Santa had abandoned him years earlier, and the young man’s Christmas Days weren’t any different from any other day – alone and ingesting a steady intake of Canadian Club and Coke mixed with psychotropic medications that quickened the onset of the safe and quiet oblivion he sought in desperation every night.
The young man’s inclusion in the family Christmas ended when he was 14 years old, thrown out of the house bleeding from the knife his father plunged into his leg. His first Christmas on his own was spent on the streets eluding the notice of cops and anyone else with the power to toss him in a group home and later to a judge who would decide what was wrong with him that his parents didn’t want him.
For the street urchin on his own and the young man he became, Santa Claus and the disillusionment he brought were dead. They were replaced by a blind search for answers to why the little boy had never quite been good enough and how he was supposed to transition from young man into adulthood. But the young man hadn’t had any role models who taught and inspired him, and the nebulous twilight zone between young adulthood and manhood had no sign posts to lead him.
The path he stumbled onto took him to self-destruction by way of alcoholism and a failed suicide attempt, and a resignation that life was little more than something to be endured until death mercifully ended it. Unknown to the young man, though, he would begin his resurrection from the ashes of his ruined life when he set out on a journey he didn’t know he had begun, a journey that started when he stopped drinking after his suicide attempt – a journey to spiritual recovery and reconciliation.
The Christmas season that would be the last one as a drinking alcoholic for the young man was especially rough. He’d heard that relatives from out of state and whom he hadn’t seen in years were to be a part of his estranged family’s Christmas. By then, the young man had been absent from family gatherings and hadn’t been invited to them for years. It had become for granted that the young man would decline invitations anyway probably because, for him, relatives had become acquaintances he ran into only occasionally and his feeling that he was part of a family had died long before. He didn’t need an invitation to be reminded that he wasn’t wanted or needed.
Knowing that relatives he hadn’t seen in years were to be part of the family’s Christmas season cut the young man deeply, though. He understood he had been rejected by a larger whole, that there was no place for him in his once-family. Once again, whiskey – a lot of it- became his self-medication and refuge that particular Christmas. He drank enough Christmas Eve night that he couldn’t get out of bed at all the next day, except to throw up in the bathroom.
One month later, the young man conceded absolute defeat of spirit and disgust at himself and attempted suicide with a handful of medications washed down with a glass of whiskey. He failed, but he survived with a bitterness at the confirmation that he could do nothing right with his ruined life – even end it. But he stopped drinking.
By the time the next Christmas rolled around 11 months later, the young man was dried out – by no means sober – but had become fully entrenched in recovery. The summer before, he experienced what the recovery literature calls a “spiritual awakening.” The experience for him was the self-realization that he alone had “done” to himself what he had blamed on life and on others, chiefly the father who started calling him a “goddamn queer” when he was 8 years old and, later, a “ni**er lover” because he walked around a school block in honor of the slain Dr. Martin Luther King – the father who’d stabbed him and tossed him into the streets.
Christmas that year, the first one without alcohol, was somehow different for the young man, for a reason he didn’t understand then. He still was not a part of any get-togethers of his estranged family, and he never again would be. He accepted it as a fact of his life, however. The price for having failed as a son and for screwing up his life as a young man. Still, that Christmas season, life for him was not as sad as it had been, and people who had always been feared didn’t seem as threatening. Christmas that year wasn’t dreaded, nor would it be in subsequent years.
The young man didn’t realize then that he was undergoing a repair of a spirit that had been broken years earlier, first by a family he saw as rejecting him and later by his own self-destruction. And that Christmas, Santa Claus began to be resurrected, not as a threatening fat man with a thick black belt but as a spirit that led the young man to begin finding some good within himself – and in people and places he had rejected as being a danger to t he little self-worth and self-respect he had left.
Along the way, the young man gave up whatever hurt and pain from his family’s rejection years earlier. The anguish of the memories from his childhood simply weren’t worth carrying anymore, and they existed only to stunt the young man’s growth into a man with something to offer other people and who could finally believe others had something good to offer him.
The young man’s alter ego – the damaged and wounded child he had once been – found his own reconciliation along the way as well. Although the little boy never had a father figure and was desperate to be accepted and loved by any man who could be a pretend father, he found his own redemption and release – in a dream. In it, playing on a park park, the little boy was approached by a man, the man the boy would grow up to be.
Caressing his little boy’s cheek, the man tells himself that “it’s” done, that the little boy “can go now” because he was worth being loved and had it in him to love someone else.
In finding his reconciliation and release, the little boy did not go away, however. He returned where he should have been all along – integrated with the man he would grow up to be and who for years tried to hide the little boy and bury him as a reminder of failure, rejection, hurt and fear. The little boy is now embraced by the man both can love and be loved.
The man today is a little older, hopefully a little wiser. For him, Christmas is no longer dreaded and another excuse to drink into oblivion. It comes now with gratitude that he is simply alive and a sense that he has a responsibility to other people who feel a little more lonely and forgotten in a holiday season with a tradition of family and love.
Asked now if Santa Claus is real, the man answers honestly that Santa and the spirit he embodies are real. Yes, Santa lives.