On the way to work on Christmas Eve, Teresa Martin stopped by St. Nicholas Abbey, a Catholic parish in the heart of downtown.
Teresa has been a member of the parish for over fifty years. She and her husband, physician Dr. Louis Martin, were married at St. Nick’s thirty years ago.
“Time flies,” she thought with a bittersweet smile. Her two daughters are grown now. Kelly is and emergency room doctor at Bellevue Hospital, volunteering on weekends at low-income clinics. Harper works as an attorney for an area non-profit.
Saint Nicholas Abbey is a humble parish, with a glorious sanctuary of hand-painted stained-glass windows, designed by a Duwamish tribe member who served the church for fifty years. The stained-glass windows tell the story of Christ’s birth to Epiphany in the annex, with the Stations of the Cross in the main sanctuary. Local attributes including Mt. Rainer and the Puget Sound are added into the landscape to bring home the message, though the testament of Christ occurred 2000 years ago in a land half a world away it is ever-present, a living testimony and truth in our own lives.
To celebrate the transition from Advent to Christmastide, Saint Nicholas Abbey hosts the ‘St. Nick Candle’ lighting ceremony all day on Christmas Eve until Silent Night is sung at Midnight Mass. The lit candles represent intercessory prayers, for the lost, departed, afflicted, desperate and for joy and peace in the season. It costs a dollar to light the candle, all money going to homeless outreach for the ecumenical Stable Feast on Christmas Night.
As grateful as Teresa is for the celebration of Christ’s birth, a deep sadness gripped her spirit. In six hours, the NWTC Board would be voting on a business proposal, implementing the layoffs of thousands of employees. She lit the St. Nicholas Candle with humble boldness. Faithfully giving her concerns and crying out for mercy.
“Christ, you are the Good Shepherd, promising to search out the lost sheep, searching the wilderness until the lost are brought into your fold. You are merciful and patient with those that have gone astray. Those who wander in the abyss of darkness, desperate, bound to the void of separation from your spirit, kindle their hearts this Christmas Eve night with your light. Darkness is not dark to you O’ Lord. Let the Star of your Wonder stir the souls of the lost to repent, seeking your all-encompassing love. Let you love, a love born on the cross, resurrected above worldly trial and tribulation bring life to those who live in death of despair. Help your servant Grant to be humbled in your wisdom. Give him compassion and mercy. Show him through your love, the power of love as a resource that burns bright for all eternity. Kindle his spirit in the manner of your servant Saint Nicholas who tended beggars and the poor, in the manner of your teaching. Endow Grant with the spirit of grace, move within him, as you called Saul to become Paul out of anger and oppression of darkness to the light that pierces the abyss. Help Grant to be moved on his own Damascus Journey this Christmas. Help him to understand.”
As she ended her prayer, the sound of harp music could be heard in the distance, the carol of ‘Angels we have Heard on High,’ sung in the choir loft.
“Fired?” Noelle in shock as her sister Marissa recounted the explosive events of the past evening.
“I quit.” Marissa corrected. “He is a heartless bully, probably a sub-humanoid race of extraterrestrial parasites. I don’t regret telling him off. Someone had to.”
“I agree that Mr. Spaulding is a Grinch, who bears no concern for his fellow human,” Noelle bit her lip. “I just wish you’d figured out a more diplomatic way to get out of the NWTC business. Maybe keep your yap shut a few more weeks until you had another job lined up.”
“Noelle, you are a social worker who runs a community center. You are of all people should support my actions. Grant Spaulding is personally responsible for revoking a promise of grant money to St. Jude’s CC. Because of his egregious behavior, hundreds will lose access to vital services come February. He may think he is a demigod, but he cannot get away with treating people like dirt.”
“I know,” Noelle buried her head. She’d spent the past two weeks desperately searching to fill the donation gap left by Spaulding’s broken promise. The problem is most corporations’ deadlines for application had passed, while families in King County have less and less money each year to spare. Add in the fact that their kettle campaign was down fifteen percent due to economic uncertainty. “You did the right thing. I just pray you’ll land on your feet and not fall flat on your face.”
“Fortunately, my emergency savings fund will tide us over until March, barely…I’m sure I can find a job by then…” Marissa feigned certainty. “I’m due at the KSEA studios for a spot on their ‘Talk of Seattle’ program. KSEA is hammering the ‘Grant, Grinch of Seattle’ story hard. Hopefully the negative press will thwart the board’s yay vote, or at least postpone it until the New Year, giving them adequate time to review Michael’s proposal.”
“Mommy, mommy,” Sarah danced into the kitchen. “Don’t I look ravishing in my ballet dress?”
“You are a princess,” Marissa kissed her daughter on the cheek.
“Will you play Nutcracker Ballet with me?” Sarah spinning.
“I would sweetie, but mom has to go to work. I will be front row and center for your stage debut as the Angel on High tonight.”
“Work – you lost your job?” Zeke in a foul mood as he dug into the cereal. “You got fired?”
“No, I quit. Time to for a career shift.”
“Mom, how stupid can you be, confronting your spineless boss. Now we’re poor for Christmas. You’ll have to return our gifs. We’ll wind up as beggars on the street.”
“Zeke don’t lose faith. Things are not that dire. You’ll still get your presents. The North Pole has not shut down for Christmas and God is full of miracles.”
“Stop the hogwash, Santa isn’t real,” Zeke red-faced.
“What! Zeke how can you say that? Santa is real.” Sarah on the brink of tears.
“Of course, Santa is real. He’s coming down our chimney tonight.” Zeke didn’t mean to make his sister cry.
“We don’t have a chimney,” Sarah realized.
“He’s coming through our front door. In fact, your Aunt Noelle, and dozens of kids like you are going to make cookies for Santa at the community center his money. Who knows St. Nick might pop by the center?”
“Cookies!” Sarah danced, twirling like a ballerina.
“If dad were here…” Zeke regretted.
“He is in spirit,” Marissa stammered, desperate to communicate with her son past trite ‘whatever’ statements he made at the dinner table. “I thought I’d take you and Joel ice-skating this afternoon, or possibly the Holiday Zoo at Woodland Park.”
“Really mom? That’d be awesome!” Joel entered the kitchen.
“No thanks,” Zeke rolled his eyes. “I’m meeting friends at the Westlake Center.”
“If by friends you are referring to Tony and Jax, then over my dead body.” Marissa put her foot down. Tony and Jax are two troublemaking kids that had gotten arrested for drugs and stealing on numerous occasions. Marissa didn’t like the negative influence they had on her son.
“You are so judgmental. So, they’ve had a tough bout, but they’re cool,” Zeke shrugged. “Besides you cannot tell me what to do.”
“Until you turn eighteen, I’m the boss.”
“Whatever,” Zeke muttered heading up to his room.
“I wish I could figure out how to get through to him. The mentoring program is a start, but…”
“I know this is a touchy subject, but have you considered dating again?” Noelle broached the topic. “I know a really great guy and…”
“Considering my unemployment, now is the worst conceivable time to start dating.”
Grant brewed a pot of NWTC coffee, feeling as if he’d been hit by a twenty-ton brick. He turned on the eight o’clock news before leaving for work. Much to his chagrin, perky pest Marissa Bright was on his television set.
“It is unpardonable the way that NWTC owner and CEO, Grant Spaulding is manipulating the company board to sign off onto a horrid business proposal that lays off nearly one million employees nationwide, halts all charitable donations including the $100,000 grant promised to St. Jude’s CC and other area nonprofits, it exports all manufacturing to China…” Marissa carried the torch of company employees with zeal and compassion.
As annoyed as Grant was with Marissa’s PR bonanza, he couldn’t help but admire the way her cheeks flushed in the cold, her green eyes full of fire and determination.
“If Marissa Bright thinks this charade of negative PR blitzkrieg will undermine my plans to move forward with the FLEX Plan, she is dead wrong.” Grant cursed her under his breath. Swigging one last sip of coffee he grabbed his waterproof thermally insulated state of the art overcoat and headed outside.
He phoned his driver, Earl, who was tied up at SEA-TAC picking up several board members flying in for the meeting from New York and Dallas. Too impatient to wait twenty-five minutes, Grant hit the pavement, hell bent on a mission to pull all stops to convince his board to back his plan.
His mind on adrenaline rush, Grant lost sight of his footsteps, tripping over a homeless man of advanced age, curled up in the shadow of a tall brick building.
The man, at least seventy had a cane and walker. His only belongings were a crude sleeping bag, well-worn tarp, several trash bags, and a backpack. The man had no coat, his clothes were wet from the Seattle rain, and his face covered of dirt. He smelled of rotting food, the stench of his body odor enough to make anyone vomit.
It was a sad sight that, even the least concerned of society’s upper echelon would at least be moved to a second of pity, even if they were too selfish to place a dollar in the poor man’s coffer.
The man, shivering, his teeth clattering in the damp cold, held a cardboard sign, with barely legible writing scribbled in permanent marker.
“I am a poor old man, hungry and alone, disabled, but willing to work. Please spare a dollar or donate food. ‘Proverbs 19:17: Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay his deed’ Matthew 25:40 ‘And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are a member of my family, you did it to me.’”
“You are vermin who should be drowned in the Puget Sound, thrown in a shallow grave, instead of leeching off society,” Grant harassed the man. “How dare you block my ability to walk on this sidewalk? At least have the decency to get to that forsaken crack-shoot shelter on Denny Way.”
“I apologize sir. God bless you on Christmas and kindle your heart with grace, mercy and thanksgiving.” The man kind, even in the hostility of persecution. “I was once like you, wealthy and powerful, I lost sight of what mattered. It took losing everything to understand the beauty and meaning of life. It took losing to understand that the wealth of the world will never satisfy a soul. It builds walls with no foundation.”
“Living on the street, a pest, a cockroach of society, allowing working men to pay your way.”
“God granted me humility and grace of spirit. In my abyss, I realized how lost I was, it took losing everything to find the light, to understand the value of people over things, hope against adversity, love is the profit of the faithful, a gift that we receive by giving.” The man spoke with a certain sanguinity, versus the blustering, cursing drug addict, mentally deranged homeless he generally encountered on the streets. The man’s coherence only agitated Grant more.
“I suppose you are a king?” He mocked.
“It takes seeing through the eyes of the humble beggar to understand what it means to serve as king,” The man spoke with an ethereal knowledge, that unsettled Grant’s soul.
“You boast with advice, yet you crawl in the underbelly of society. I have no need for your lectures. I intend to get you removed from this sidewalk by day’s end.”
“Twelve bells will ring for your salvation, second chances that come in a winter’s night, the gift of Christ, a new birth. Even in the darkness comes a new day, a light to pierce your heart and pull you out of the abyss.” the man spoke with a fervor, foretelling a vision like a street corner prophet. Grant turned his back on the man, who continued to proclaim his message. “Proverbs 14:16-17, ‘The wise are cautious and turn away from evil, but the fool throws off restraint and is careless. One who is quick-tempered acts foolishly, and the schemer is hated.’ Christ’s works to conquer hate with love, angry and resentment with forgiving grace, wisdom not by worldly standards, but a simple understanding of love and compassion, wealth of Christ, people over things. Remember this as you work today. People’s lives are at stake. Redemption isn’t always an easy road, but it is one that yields life eternal. Choose wisely.”
“I’ll have you arrested for harassment,” Grant turned around, shouting, shocked to find that the beggar and all his belongings had vanished into thin air. “Old coot must be quick on his feet. Daft old fool.”
When Grant arrived at corporate headquarters just after nine o’clock, the street was filled with protestors and news cameras. Before he had a chance to escape the hordes of people, through the company’s back entrance, KSEA’s Browder Anderson bombarded Grant with questions.
“Mr. Spaulding, in a few hours you plan to lay off
thousands of NWTC employees, exporting company manufacturing overseas while simultaneously eliminating The Shelton Foundation, which gives millions annually to non-profits in desperate need.” Browder shoved a microphone into Grant’s face. “Around the nation you are known simply as ‘The Grinch,’ a real-life Ebenezer Scrooge.”
“I’m a businessman, not a charitable institution. The FLEX Plan uses high-end technology to service the needs of our customers without the red tape of cashiers, baggers, and greeters. Exporting manufacturing will reduce costs, giving customers the savings, they demand.”
“Our polls, show that Northwest Trading Customers oppose to the FLEX Plan. They rely on your well-trained and friendly staff to service their shopping needs. An anonymous source at the company leaked a copy of the FLEX proposal to KSEA. The proposal it is all about corporate greed with no concern for consumer needs or the welfare of your employees. You embody what Americans despise about corporate corruption.”
“People live in a fantasy world,” Grant bashed.
“Is your heart so frozen that even on Christmas Eve you cannot show enough compassion to reconsider this train wreck approach?”
“Christmas is a medieval holiday invented to make people feel better by belief in a God, a savior. At NWTC I am god, but as a businessman it isn’t my duty to save the world, let alone the million useless employees we are laying off. Christmas is about profit, money in our coffer. Does that make me an evil man? Perhaps, but at least I’m blunt enough to straight shoot what business is about. Christmas is about profit.”
“The profit of generosity and grace in Christ Jesus,” a demonstrator shouted out, getting the crowd behind her.
“Love your neighbor!”
“A stingy man hastens after wealth and does not know that poverty will come upon him.”
“Those who follow greed and self-indulgence will fall, their souls rotten because they poisoned their blood with selfishness.” The crowds shouted.
“I don’t care about the spirit of Christmas. I care about cold-hard cash, keeping this company financially viable. Compassion is not my job.” Grant shouted, NWTC security escorting him inside.
“There you have it, the word straight from the Grinch’s mouth.”
“I want them off our property now!” Grant seethed with exacting expectation. “Launch a counteroffensive that will make Marissa Bright, Danny Boyne and the likes of them regret the day they were born.”
“At the risk of sounding dense, would it not be best if we postpone the vote?” Public Relations director Anne Dyson pleaded. “We can issue a statement that after thoughtful consideration you have decided to appoint a group of unbiased analysts to review the FLEX plan, before taking the vote to the board. This will buy us some time and help implement our positive PR approach for selling the FLEX plan long term?”
“I don’t kowtow to these minions of society. I set the rules, I am CEO of this company, and my word is the law of the land.”
“The board runs this company Grant,” Horace Shelton inserted himself into the debate. “Yes, you own the majority share of company, but as NWTC is a publicly traded company, all be it on a limited scope, you are answerable to stockholders. The board is the advising body and by all intents and purposes the Supreme Court, if you will, of all NWTC business decisions. Your tirade is hurting our stock price, which is dropping dramatically by the second as all the major networks running the ‘Grant the Grinch’ news spin.”
“The numbers will bounce back up in the New Year.”
“Perhaps, but I’ve spoken with our fellow board members. Many are already in a foul mood for being forced to halt their family vacations, to come in and vote on a highly unpopular measure on Christmas Eve. Seventeen members of the board say they want a postponement, or they will vote nay. Frankly I’m all for a ‘nay’ vote, ending this debacle once and for all. It’d save the company’s skin. Being a fair man, I’ll advise you to postpone the vote until January – use that time to carefully consider Michael Horton’s proposal, shadow employees at stores to gauge their value as employees, have public forums with our consumer base…”
“The vote goes through. I won’t be intimidated!”
“Mr. Spaulding this is ill-advised on every level of business and PR protocol,” Anne contended.
“GET OUT and get to work! I pay you scoundrels to make things happen. Do as I say or consider yourselves fired.”
“That man is a tyrant. Who does he think he is King Herod the Great?” Anne didn’t care if Grant heard her. “I’m through with this job. I quit.”
“Can’t the board enact a coup d’état?” Business associate Kyle Smith asked Horace, as they exited Grant’s office suite.
“That is on the table, although no one likes to cross Grant. At least we can hope for a postponement until his head cools and the board has time to vote their conscience without his threats looming over our heads.” Horace grimaced. “I keep thinking deep in the recesses of his soul, there is a good man, the hardworking and compassionate executive I sold the company to six years ago. I fear greed, like a cancer has rotten his core. He may be beyond hope.”
“Is it true, is Grant is going to postpone the vote?” Michael hopeful.
“Dream on, that tyrant has had a nervous breakdown. He could be struck down with reason and still speak gibberish,” Kyle rolled his eyes. “Under no uncertain terms, he insists on going forward with the vote.”
“The good news is that the majority of the board is expected to vote ‘nay,’ or at the very least enact a motion for a postponement until January 6,” Horace informed.
“I doubt that he will have a Christmas epiphany by then,” Michael distressed. “Nevertheless at least it buys us time to argue our case to other members of the board and work the press.”
“Jordan is researching our options as we speak.” Horace followed. “Marissa Bright’s tenacity might just be the spark we needed to launch our attack.”
“Even the all-powerful Grant Spaulding cannot argue with the thousands of customers calling corporate with complaints about his greedy tirade, millions signing petitions online to stop the FLEX plan, pledging to boycott NWTC. Eventually his business brain will kick in. Greed can only go so far.” Michael assumed. “Although when it comes to the code of Grant Spaulding, he’ll no doubt fight this to near death.”
“I hope he comes to his senses before irrevocable damage is done.”
“Mr. Spaulding, your sister Elsie is on line two,” Teresa cautiously approached her boss. “She is concerned about you.”
“I have more pressing matters to deal with than my self-righteous sister who feels it is her place to lecture me about ‘Spaulding Moral Law.’ I disowned my family years ago.”
“She’s only trying to help.”
“Her help is useless.” Grant retorted. “What’s the status of removing the 3,000 bozo protestors from company property?”
“Apparently Marissa filed the proper paperwork to hold the protest. Although the legal team argues that the demonstration violates numerous city codes and that NWTC wasn’t given proper notice to take security measures. Marissa Bright and Danny Boyne have agreed to move the protest to Puget Park one block south of here.” Teresa informed. “The police did report that the protests have been peaceful, no damage to property, which is a relief given how quickly riots can erupt, especially over an issue as charged as this.”
“They tweaked your statement, releasing it to all major news media. This in conjunction with social media blasts. Our board has been advised to refrain from making any public comments. Wally Dermott is acting as our ‘media face’, hitting the news cycle, rehashing the major benefits of the FLEX plan and deflecting all negative line of questioning.” Teresa did little to hide her irritation, incensed by Grants rash behavior. “I have been fielding calls from members of the board all day. They are incensed with your scorched earth battle plan. I understand that you are the majority holder of NWTC, serving as company CEO, but that doesn’t make you immune from liability. You are answerable to the board. You are blatantly ignoring their concerns, refusing to return phone calls…Mr. Spaulding they think you have gone crazy. As we speak, The Executive Board is drafting a proposal requesting that you delay today’s vote until January 6 or risk Article 12.”
“How dare the board scheme to cut me out of my own company?” Grant’s anger boiling over. “I refuse to let my plan fall apart, not when we are standing on the precipice of history.”
“Rome wasn’t built in a day, yet it burned to the ground in a few hours while Nero fiddled. Postpone the board vote.” Teresa advised. “Compromise doesn’t equal failure; it means building a bridge over impossible odds.”
“It seems I don’t have a choice,” Grant incessantly tapping his fingers on his desk. “I cannot risk a board retaliation. Draft a statement, telling the board that I’ll postpone the vote until January 6th. I’ll surrender to fight another day and mark my words it will be a fight. Any board member that crosses me on January 6 will live to regret it.”
Teresa clattering hands typed the notice at lightning speed, in turn forwarding it via email and text message to all board members. She followed up with a call to the PR team, who promptly notified the press of their decision.
“I just got word. Grant has agreed to postpone the vote until the New Year.” Imbued with energy, Jordan shared the news with her grandfather and Michael Horton.
“Thank God.” Michael let out a sigh of relief.
“Sadly, this fight has only begun. Grant is notorious for holding a grudge, machinating his revenge like a subtle, yet lethal poison. He’ll be cleaning house by January 6.” Horace feared. “The postponement buys us time, though the battle has just begun.”
“Sorry to interrupt,” Teresa knocked on Horace’s office door. “Mr. Spaulding is requesting to see Michael in his office immediately.”
“Of course,” Michael sensed the ominous nature of the call.
“Mr. Horton.” Grant stalked the young executive, his eyes haunted with rage. “Please come in.”
“Mr. Spaulding,” Michael gulped. Grant uncorked the bottle of Cayuse he’d received from Marissa the night prior.
“To Marissa Bright. The crusader of the oppressed.”
“You postponed the board vote,” Michael treading cautiously.
“The board threatened me with Article 12. Bad PR and all. I decided to re-strategize.” Grant poured another glass of wine. “You deserve a drink, Michael.”
“By re-strategizing, do you mean that you are considering my proposal?”
“I mean that are heads are going to roll, starting with yours.” Grant threw his tumbler across the room. The shattering of the glass fractured the tepid calm, like a serrated knife, sharp and jarring as it crashed to the floor. “Michael Horton, you are fired. I’ll see that you never work in this town again.”
“Mr. Spaulding, please…I beg you. Be reasonable.” Michael entreated his boss. “I love my job. I’m invested in the future of this company. You have no grounds to fire me.”
“Grounds? You undermined my authority.”
“I did my job. The FLEX plan is reckless.” Michael maintained. “I respect your intellect and leadership enough to point out the flaws in the plan. I didn’t think you hired me to be a lackey. I stood up against the FLEX plan, putting the company’s interest above my own job security.”
“You defied me and therefore are paying the price.”
“Fire me, obstruct the board, but in the end, wrongs don’t make a right. If you continue down this foolhardy path, you’ll lose everything you sought to gain, ruining millions of lives in the process. If you insist on derailing your own life, fine, but don’t have the audacity to drag this company’s reputation and fiscal viability down with you.”
“Security will escort you off the premises.”
“At least give me the courtesy to clear out my office.”
“Get OUT!” Grant physically pushed Michael out the door. The young executive stumbled to the ground.
“Michael, are you okay?” Teresa rushed to his aid.
“Fine, I was just leaving,” Michael wiped the blood off his chin. “Merry Christmas Teresa.”
“What happened?” Teresa turned to Grant, demanding an explanation.
“It is not your concern.” Grant unmoved by the incident. “Go home Teresa, it is nearly six o’clock, and there is no use in your fluttering about the office.”
“I don’t feel comfortable leaving you in this state.” Teresa concerned. “It is Christmas Eve, come home with me. Enjoy dinner with my family, come with us to Midnight Mass at St. Nicholas Abbey.”
“Christmas Eve is a conspiracy, a light that blinds the masses into the idiotic joy of faith. What do you have to be faithful for, the imprudent world?” Grant cursed under his breath. “So go make merry this Christmas. I’d rather dwell in the stark darkness of the mortal corporeality of this decaying world.”
“Darkness is not dark to the Lord,” Teresa smiled, her heart full of compassion. “Faith is a choice, I pray if you don’t choose belief, that the spirit of Christmas, love, ‘idiotic joy’, peace…will fill the void inside you. Mr. Spaulding you are a decent man, who is lost and afraid. Let go of your hate, embrace hope in this season. Wonder is discovered in the humblest and often unexpected of places. Peace can emerge triumphant out of conflict.”
“I prefer to live by my reputation, ‘The Grinch of Seattle.’”
*forgive any typos*