Some Christmas gifts mean more to me than others, simply because they touch me deeply. The two gifts that resonate the deepest into my soul are actually the same. Oddly enough they were not gifts at all ... they were my dad.
I have always held my dad in high esteem. Probably too high at times, but that speaks to a different part of the human condition. I used to refer to him as the Iron Man, which had nothing to do with a comic character and everything to do with his determination, will, and strength.
The first time my dad was "the gift" of Christmas, he had a near-fatal work accident. Dad was an iron worker and a ladder gave way, plummeting him thirty-five feet. That was 1970 if memory serves me correctly. He still bears many of the scars from that accident. I was in grade school. The great joy was that Dad came home from a protracted hospital stay, on Christmas Eve! In retrospect, that was probably too early, but I think he was ready to be out of that place as well.
Yes, that is etched into my memory. It's probably etched into my DNA.
The second was quite different. I live nearly two thousand miles from my parents, and a few years back, my dad suffered a stroke. The reality of aging is not lost on me. I have no delusions that I or any of my family will dodge the maladies that are common with getting old. I know we each have a finite number of days and that is that. But a stroke is mysterious. It can leave invisible scars and long lasting effects without warning. And, as if that was not enough, it can be abruptly fatal.
So that December, as my dad lay in a hospital bed in Duluth, Minnesota, partially paralyzed and unable to speak, I frantically scrambled to make emergency travel plans. One of my sisters intercepted me before I made the trip and suggested that Dad seemed to be stable with signs of pending improvement. Her advice was that if I showed up, Dad might give himself up.
If you do not understand what a conundrum is, re-read that last paragraph.
I stayed home. I put on a confident facade for my wife and kids. And I died a little inside.
I resented Dad's condition of helplessness, and I resented my own. I am a boat builder by trade. I have no idea how to fix stroke victims. The image if my dad, Iron Man, in such a condition really got to me. Then I heard a song on the radio. It was a familiar Christmas song that had been one of my favorites from the first time I heard it. You may be familiar with it: Mary Did You Know.
One of the lines in the song says:
The lame will leap,
the dumb will speak
the praises of the Lamb.
I can't say I had any Divine Revelation or assurance of my dad's recovery. It was that it spoke to me at a very deep level and I drew comfort from it. He did recover very well, and Dad was once again home before Christmas.
Consequently, every time I visit with Dad I am reminded of that song. And every time I hear that song, I am reminded of that uncertain time with my dad.
Here is a brilliantly done a cappella version of the song by a group called Pentatonix.