Twelve Days of Christmas Novel

The Twelve Days of Christmas (Part V)

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Chapter 10:

            The first light of Christmas broke through the dark clouds hovering over Seattle. Grant woke up shivering, his body aching.

 In a state of delirium, he tried to make sense of his surroundings.  His head hurt. The stench of rotting trash, and the rumble of cars screeching over the pavement, pushed Grant to the jarring realization he wasn’t at home in the comfort of his penthouse.  He found himself lying on the rough frigid concrete sidewalk, using trash bags to cushion the stark austere ground.

Somehow, perhaps in a drunken stupor, he’d wound up in the grime and filth of the city streets.  Lost and confused, Grant struggled to remember the events leading up to this moment.  It struck him like lightning.  Christmas Eve, the visit from Saint Nicholas.

“It isn’t possible.” Grant dismissed. “I must have gone out drinking, gotten so hammered that I fell asleep in the street…not one of my finer moments, but my ego will survive.”

As he stood up, it quickly became apparent that the shoes on his feet were worn, rife with holes, the rubber soles peeling off.

“These aren’t my shoes?”  Grant infuriated, fearing in his stupor he had been robbed.  His expensive leather loafers replaced by crude hobo boots blistering his feet. He searched for his wallet.  “This isn’t my jacket!”

His overcoat a ragged wool blazer devoid of insulation, with holes in the pockets, paired with a flannel shirt covered in mud. His pants tattered jeans, held up with a makeshift belt of coarse rope.  His head warmed by a stocking watch-cap.

“I’ve been robbed, accosted!” Grant shouted, desperate for help. The sound of distant church bells, reminding him of the strange dream. He buried his head into his hands, shocked to find his clean shaven face covered in a thick bristled beard.  He wreaked of body odor, as if he hadn’t showered in a week; a putrid overwhelming smell causing him keel over, vomiting on the street. 

 “Are you okay sir,?” Another passerby, a middle-aged man, approached with caution.

“I woke up in this alley, my wallet and possessions stolen, dressed in vagrant’s clothes…” Grant spoke in gibberish, still vexed by the situation.

“What a terrible ordeal, especially on Christmas.” The man compassionate. “I’ll phone the police.”

“Thank you,” Grant let out a sigh of relief.

“The police are on the way,” The stranger informed. “I’m Vincent Paul.”

“The name’s Grant Spaulding.” He remained on edge. “I’ll pay handsomely for your assistance once this is sorted out.”

 “Not necessary.  I am concerned about you.  You are pretty beat up.  It is no way to spend Christmas.”

“Christmas is a dark door to me,” Grant shrugged.

“I know that getting robbed, left for dead on a lonely, cold Seattle streetsuffocates hope, but Christ is a light that surpasses the darkness, giving rest to the weary and guiding the footsteps of the lost.” Vincent encouraged. “Good always outlasts evil.  Better days will come.”

“Where exactly am I?” Grant trying to get a bearing on his surroundings.

“Just off Wall Street, on Nicholas Street near the Overpass,” Vincent noted.

“I don’t understand how I got here.  Last night I went to sleep in my penthouse in Belltown, this morning, I’m on the street, sleeping by a dumpster, wearing these disgusting clothes, my wallet missing.  I drank before bed and took a few sleeping pills, but blackout to the point I wind up lost on Wall Street, a mile from my apartment.  It doesn’t make sense.” Grant rambled on.

“You should see a doctor.  You might have hit your head to the point you blacked out.” Vincent advised.

“My priority is to report this theft to the police, then get home to the comfort and luxury of my apartment; take a hot shower, then have a huge breakfast.  I’m starving.” Grant’s stomach growling, demanding nourishment.  “I feel as if I haven’t eaten for a week.”

“I am on the way to spend Christmas at my parent’s house in Fremont.  Every year we volunteer at the Fremont Toy Drive, then serve a holiday meal to senior citizens at the Nightingale Nursing Home.  Most of the patients have no family, little money and are bound to wheelchairs, suffering from chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Dementia, arthritis, and poor eyesight.  I’m a songwriter by trade, doing jingles for ads, so I entertain them with carols on the piano.  Even in their lost state of mind, you see a flicker of light, a fire in their soul igniting as they hear ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing,’ and the colorful bulbs and tinsel glistening on the tree.”

“Sounds like a stressful Christmas, surrounded around people who don’t even know their own names?” Grant scoffed.

“It is the only way to spend Christmas, giving selfless love and receiving the gift of love in return.” Vincent smiled. “My point, roundabout as it may be is that if you’re hungry, I have dozens of cinnamon buns in these shopping bags.  Can I interest you in one?”

“You don’t mind sharing?”

“Of course not,” Vincent handed him a gooey red-velvet cinnamon delight with honey drizzle.

“This is delicious.” Grant didn’t realize how hungry he was until he broke the bread.  “You are a songwriter?  Jingles?”

“Jingles pay the bills, but my passion is musical theatre.  I run an inner-city music and theatre camp for kids.  Music is an outlet for them, a hope to persevere through drugs and alcohol, abuse, gangs and homelessness.”

“Charitable guy.” Grant didn’t see the appeal in helping troublemaking kids on the street.  He’d often cursed the wayward teenagers for being born.  Half of their parents shouldn’t have had them in the first place.  Their purpose in society seemed a waste of space.  To Grant people like that lacked value. 

“It is not charity to me.  It is giving back with what I’ve been given.  A lot of these kids are lost, they don’t know love, they feel worthless, and society treats them as such.  I think you can solve a lot of the world’s problems by spreading love and compassion.  Inner-City Arts is a program bringing hope to forsaken.  It gives them courage to take positive life changing steps out of the darkness into a new light.  We all have the power to change when we let go of anger and fear and embrace love and trust redemption.  In the end, they bring me joy.  They are the heroes for having faith and trust to endure the hardships, knowing life is worth living and against all odds they persist climbing that dream.”

“I run a company, a big box chain.  I’d be willing to consider your jingles for our advertising campaign.”

“I’d be honored.” Vincent lit up. “What is the name of your company?”

“Northwest Trading Company.  We’ve gotten some negative publicity as of late, perhaps your jingle can turn that around?”

“Northwest Trading Company, the grocery chain?” Vincent perplexed. “NWTC went out of business in 2010.  A corporate raider restructured the company, sold his interest to a conglomerate in China, who ended up doing a fire sale, selling all the remaining inventory, and laying off thousands of employees in the process.  It hit the local economy hard.”

Before they could continue their conversation, Officer Raymond Santos of the Seattle P.D., arrived at the scene.  

“I’ve got to run,” Vincent noticed the time. “Merry Christmas. I’ll keep you in my prayers.”

“Thank you for everything.” Grant surprised by the warmth he felt from the simplest act of compassion.

“We received a report of a robbery and possible assault?” Officer Santos approached, inquiring about the nature of the complaint.

“I woke up here, surrounded by trash, dressed in a beggars’ clothes, my wallet stolen and cash missing,” Grant explained the entire ordeal.

“It is a rather strange set of circumstances?” Officer Santos skeptical as he surveyed the dirty, disheveled man standing before him.  Grant looked like one of the 9,000 other homeless people wandering Seattle’s streets, ghosts on the margins, persons with lost identities forgotten and scorned by the rest of society.  Many left begging, strangers passing them by, stereotyped as scum, not as people. “Have you taken any drugs or medications that might have altered your state of mind?”

“As I told you earlier, I did drink a bottle of scotch and foolishly mixed it with a few sleeping pills while I was in my penthouse in Belltown.” Grant paused. “I fell asleep in my four-poster bed only to wake up in this squalid corner.”

“Do you have a history of mental health issues?” Officer Santos continued, scribbling down notes.

“Of course not,” Grant irritated. “I don’t like this game of twenty questions.  I am Grant Spaulding, CEO of Northwest Trading Company and a multi-millionaire for goodness sakes!”

“I understand that you are upset.  I am merely trying to get answers.  I cannot rule out an assault, possibly resulting in injuries, causing you to blackout.  I also have to examine the fact that you look as though you have been living on the street for some time.”

“I’m not a street urchin.” Grant grievously offended. “I’m a CEO of a multi-billion-dollar company.”

“Sir, I don’t judge anyone, homeless or executive as an urchin.  You are a person that is suffering,” Santos carefully phrased his statement. “You claim that you are the CEO of Northwest Trading Company.  NWTC is out of business, it no longer exists.  They were bought out years ago, reengineered into a cheap dollar store before a Chinese company swept up the shares and had a fire sale.”

“NWTC will be laying off a huge percentage of their workforce in the New Year in a restructuring of the brand.  Despite the pending layoffs, NWTC is still open for business…”

 “Look, Northwest Trading Company, the grocery chain, went out of business in 2010.  I know full well, because my wife, Sandra, lost her job as the assistant manager of the Westlake Store.  We struggled for months financially after she was laid off.  Kelly’s income from NWTC was funding our daughter’s education at the University of Washington.  The shutdown caused Seattle’s unemployment rate to tick up nearly two percentage points.  The employees were effected, not to mention the regional vendors that relied on NWTC to sell their produce and goods.   Fifteen percent of the homeless population used to be NWTC employees.  They just couldn’t find alternate employment during The Great Recession.  Sandy’s meat packer, committed suicide, after he lost his house, and his kids were put in foster care.”  Santos wanted to be helpful to the stranger on the street, but the issue of NWTC hit close to home.

 “Northwest Trading Company is a Fortune 500 company, the largest big box chain on the West Coast, employing 2 million workers at over 8,000 locations in North America.”  Grant assumed the officer confused his company with another grocery chain.

“Mr. Spaulding, I think it is best if I take you a hospital for evaluation.  The doctors can examine you to ensure that you sustained no injuries as well as conduct a thorough psychological analysis.”

 “I am the victim of a fiendish attack, leaving me to rot in the filth of our city streets, my wallet and cloths stolen, and you have the audacity to treat me, the Grant Spaulding, as a mentally ill vagrant?  You’ll lose your badge for this.”

“I insist we get you to a hospital.”

“I know how I can prove my identity.  The Seattle Times.  They call me the ‘Grinch of Seattle,’ a man who intends to lay off one million workers.  All the major news networks were covering the protest at NWTC corporate offices all day yesterday.”

“Mr. Spaulding…”

 “There is a newspaper stand on the corner,” Grant persisted.

“No need,” the officer let out a heavy sigh. “I have the latest edition of the Times in my patrol car.”

Santos’s instinct told him that Grant is a mentally ill, possibly drug addicted homeless man, who created an alternate reality, a way to separate himself from the burden of his homelessness.  Officer Santos has encountered it numerous times, people living on the street, who lash out, in denial.  They create a mental barrier, a life in which they are not transients, but have money, a home, family…often the stories are tied to their past lives, before homelessness, dependency, addiction, financial turmoil forced them into a life on the fringes, hanging on by a thread.

It breaks his heart, day in and out to witness the plight of so many mentally ill and confused people left alone, to scrap out a life on the streets.  Most of the city’s homeless population should be in mental health homes, treated with dignity and care for diseases from schizophrenia to clinical depression.  Many of the mental issues facing the homeless population are only exacerbated by dependency issues related to drugs and alcohol. It is easy to judge them as junkies, the vermin of society through glass houses. He’d learned the hard way that many were trapped and came from broken places, shattered souls in need of grace and patient compassion. 

Santos is aware that the journey out of homeless can be a paralyzing road, rife with obstacles.  Homelessness comes is the root of a diverse mix of circumstances, a combination of personal fault and society’s cruel nature.  They are imprisoned by desperate situations, unable to rise above the grips of their demons, lost in a complex maze of misunderstanding.  Many retained an iron faith – trusting fully in God’s mercy. Even on their dark road, they could recognize light and find hope in the simple joys of life, against the shattering of dreams and constant heartache.

Officer Santos handed Grant the December 25th, Christmas edition of The Seattle Times.  As Grant read the headline his stomach sunk.

“Twelve Gifts of the Christmas Spirit.”

Grant, this isn’t a dream, you haven’t been robbed.  Your former life as a CEO and multi-millionaire is no more.  You are a homeless man, without family or friends.  You will rely in faith on God’s mercy, and the love of others who share their love of compassion through Christ, without expectation.  By the dumpster is a backpack.  It includes the bare necessities for your journey as you receive these spiritual gifts of Christmastide.

“I must be hallucinating,” Grant whispered, trembling as he turned to Officer Santos. “What does this headline say?”

“The Twelve Gifts of the Christmas Spirit, followed by the caption: Saint Nicholas successfully delivers gifts to those in need.”

“This is not happening.  I must be in a waking nightmare or dead…I am not homeless.  I’m a multi-millionaire.” Grant railed, like a lunatic.

“You’re not dead and this is no dream.” Officer Santos unsuccessfully tried to reassure him.

“It has to be a dream otherwise, I’m in hell.”

“I think you should go to the hospital.  We can sort out the details of your situation from there.”

“I don’t need to go to the hospital.” Grant shouted.

“Grant, I understand the desolation you feel.  It is okay to be afraid and confused.  I am here to help.” Officer Santos tried to calm him down. “For your own safety, either you go to the hospital, or I can drop you off with a friend or relative.”

“I want to go home,” Grant pleaded. “I live in The Bell Tower in Belltown, penthouse suite.  Call the front desk, Brennan will confirm my identity.”

Officer Santos released a hard sigh as he pulled out his cell phone and dialed the number to poshest apartment complex in the urban chic neighborhood of Belltown.  After several rings he was able to get in touch with the operator, whom he put on speaker phone, allowing Grant to overhear the conversation.

“There is no man by the name of Grant Spaulding that lives in this building.  The Penthouse has always been owned by Myra Nicholas, CEO of the Seattle Toy Company.”

“He’s lying!  Brennan I’ll have you fired for this,” Grant shouted into the phone. “Bruce Tompkins, he’ll know me…”

“Bruce moved out a year ago, lives in San Francisco, to start a new outreach non-profit to train Bay area homeless how to use computers so they can reenter the workforce.  Bruce always was a friend of the oppressed and disenfranchised.  Volunteered at several area homeless shelters.”

“Thank you, Mr. Brennan.” Santos hung up the phone. “I’m sorry Grant, but I fear you have created an alternate reality to cope with your status as a homeless man.  I am willing to do what I can to assist you.”

“I’m not crazy.  I’m Grant Spaulding, a multi-millionaire.” He cried out, distressed, full of rage and fear.  Was the prophecy true?  Had St. Nicholas somehow transported him into another sphere, a place in which, he was resigned as a homeless beggar, a man without worth, a pauper?  The reckoning of such a fate was too much to bear.  It left him bitter and angry.

 “I think I found your wallet,” Santos noticed the leather pouch falling out from a large army backpack, resting adjacent to the nearby dumpster. “It looks as if your social security card is here.”

Grant sifted through the wallet.  “The social security number is correct,” admitted aloud. “Though this isn’t my wallet.  Where is my driver’s license, all my credit cards, the $500 I keep in the billfold?  The only items in here are my Social Security number and a card listing the address for St. Nicholas Abbey on Marillac Street near Pioneer Square.”

“St. Nicholas does a lot of outreach,” Santos advised. “Did you go there this week?”

“I don’t believe in any religion and I certainly don’t go to church.  They lecture you on flawed moral code and kick you with judgment.”

“Faith is a choice, a journey only your soul can discover.  Human nature is flawed, but the grace of Christ’s love, ‘agape’, fills the spirit and gives strength to the weak.  There are many churches, synagogues and civic organization in this city ready to give love without expectation, ready to help with merciful heart, love for neighbor in action.” Santos’ words strangely comforted Grant, as he came to the inconceivable revelation that in some twisted dream or miraculous curse he’d wound up in an alternate reality; a deplorable treacherous life where he was forced to live as a disenfranchised pauper.

“I’m stuck in a horrible nightmare.” Grant inconsolable – lost in fear. He had to figure a way out of this mess. “Can you give me a ride to Saint Nicholas Abbey?”

“I still think you need to see a doctor.” Santos hesitated. “If you are worried about insurance, there is a clinic not far from here that waives fees…”

“My situation cannot be fixed by a doctor.”

 “If you refuse to seek medical attention, I suppose Saint Nicholas is the next best place.  I’ll give you ride.”

            Grant grabbed the backpack and got into the patrol car.  He hoped Saint Nicholas would offer clues to this Christmas mystery.

Chapter 12:

            Pioneer Square is in the southwestern core of Downtown Seattle. It serves as a hub, arts and culture, food, nightlife, and business.  Imbued with a rich, and notorious history, Pioneer Place is the oldest neighborhood in the city, a place where in 1852 Seattle’s founders first laid out their ambitious plans for a city on the Puget Sound. 

            The founding of Seattle is known for its seedy underhanded manipulation from greed and lust, brothels, and parlors to murders and thieves, and the formation of the Skid Row.  The district’s early buildings were built mostly of wood, and most burned to the ground during the Great Seattle Fire of 1889.  Grand brick and stone Romanesque style buildings erected in their place, weaving a tapestry of character, histories of tragedy and redemption left as distant reminders in each brick and stone facing. 

            By the 1960s the majority of Pioneer Square had become a hub of treachery so pervasive no one dared bother to hide their sins in the light, let alone the dark.  It took an urbanization and historical campaign to restore this neighborhood, to a lively city center, without of erasing its eccentric charm.  Underground tours of Pioneer Square still tell the history of the center’s seedy past and hopeful future.  

            Saint Nicholas Abbey stands on the corner of Marillac and Klondike Streets, just off Yesler Way. The church was founded in 1901as a small mission church.  The stone building has gothic and Romanesque influences coupled with Pacific Northwest touches including its Native American carvings.  The church grounds include Prefontaine Community Park.

            “Here we are,” Santos pointed to the church gates. “Best of luck to you Grant.  My prayers are with you.  Merry Christmas.”

            Grant didn’t say a word as he got out of the vehicle, his mind too wrapped up in trying to pull the pieces of this crazy experience together.  It seemed fitting to come to Saint Nicholas Abbey, seeing as the spirit of Saint Nicholas had visited him, condemning him to this tortuous fate.

            Hesitating before he stepped inside the church’s cast iron gates, Grant looked up at the church sign, a banner pinned up, LOVE, followed by a quote.        “Christ is love, love that gives with no expectation.  When we are filled with this love, we are full, well fed, our weary hearts rested in love.  It is in Christ’s love we are called to love unselfishly.” – Sisters of Saint Nicholas Abbey.

            Grant heaved begrudgingly as he walked into the church premise.  Nine bells began to ring with intense joy, as a choir of what he could only describe as angels were heard singing: ‘The Good Shepherd, Christ is born, whose love is a gift eternal, may we be born anew to love as Christ first loved us, without expectation or selfish concern, a love for all the ages, Rejoice Christ is born.’”

            “This whole thing is preposterous.” Grant still doubted, unable to make sense of something so unexpected, it surpassed his comprehension. He took heavy, belligerent steps into the church.  God knows he hasn’t darkened the door to a chapel as a man of faith since he was confirmed at age thirteen.  The last time he’d stepped foot into a church at all was for his brother’s wedding ten years ago, back when he and George still got along.    

            The church entryway is defined three distinct stone arches, each inscribed with quotes:

            “Accustom yourself continually to make acts of love for they enkindle and melt the soul – Teresa of Avila.”

            “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13.”

            “The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic God’s giving, by grace, through faith and this is not of ourselves – St. Nicholas of Myra.”

            “Merry Christmas.” Grant was shocked to find Teresa Martin; his secretary lighting candles in the sanctuary. “Welcome to our parish.”

            “Teresa? What are you doing here?”

            “Have we met?” She gave a kind, albeit blank stare, indicating she did not recognize her employer.

            “Grant Spaulding,” he reached out to shake her hand, pulling back when he saw the ash and dirt on his tired hands.

            “Pleasure to meet you. Our Christmas Day service starts at 10:30.” Teresa could tell the soul was homeless and wanted to provide him with mercy.  Mercy she had learned is an act of selfless love, love greater for the other, in which you meet the needs of the other, be it food, shelter and agape love itself.

            “I’m not a believer…just a seeker of St. Nicholas I guess.” Grant careful with his words.  He wished he’d find St. Nicholas in church to confront him for this whole nightmare.

            “If you’re hungry we have ham sandwiches and coffee in the Parish Hall?”

            “I’m not hungry.  It seems I’m lost, trying to make sense of my life.” Grant wanted to share the details of his strange supernatural experience with Teresa but didn’t dare.  She would no doubt deem him demented.

            “Are you homeless?” Teresa was respectful, careful not to be too forward.  She knew poverty, addiction, loss, left people clutching to what little dignity they have.  Pride makes it difficult for people to take help, even when they so desperately need and want the help. “I know it is a dark place, a road that people arrive at through various trials.  It is easy to lose heart, but I promise you have a friend and advocate in Christ.  In celebrating his birth, we celebrate second chances.  Saint Nicholas Abbey doesn’t have a shelter, but we do have showers in the basement, and I can get you some fresh clothes from our Bargain Closet.”

            “I hate to impose.” Grant desired a shower, to be made clean more than anything, but his pride made him uncomfortable in asking for something as trivial as a shower.  He is a multi-millionaire; he shouldn’t be reduced to bathing in a church basement.  The notion was demeaning to his ego.

            “It’s not an imposition.” Teresa insisted, her voice full of consideration for Grant. “Let’s get you cleaned up, then if you’re willing we can talk over hot cocoa before mass starts.”

            Grant, exposed to a whiff of his fetid smell, succumbed to the offer.  “Teresa works for me,” He rationalized, still bound to an unhealthy sense of entitlement. “I pay her wages.  The least she can do is help me get out of this sordid Christmas nightmare.”

            The church basement’s lone bathroom is a far cry from the penthouse’s state of the art rain shower and spa. He cautiously stepped into the confines of the modest space.  Undressing, he gagged as he realized the feces and dried urine on his pants, imprinted on his skin.  He was aware that the homeless often defecate on themselves, little options of going to the bathroom, especially when businesses and public restrooms are closed.  Grant once mocked their unclean existence as repulsive, going so far as to having one ‘contaminated’ homeless man arrested for sitting on a NWTC bench just outside corporate headquarters.  Now, left in the same foul condition, Grant was disgusted with himself.  His dignity stolen.  He was angry at his circumstances, in a state of self-pity.

Turning on the faucet, the rickety showerhead expelled low pressure lukewarm water.  The tile and grout, a sterile, dated set-up, marred by lime scale from the hardness of water.  It was adequate by sanitation standards, still Grant felt dirty standing on the crude tile.

            The water rushed over his body, purging the dirt and grunge tarring his body.  Grant lost himself in the water’s cleansing power.  A shower never felt so satisfying.  He scrubbed incessantly trying to ensure every bit of muck was erased.  The water cleansed his body, making him feel a new man, still his soul clung to a cold bitter shame.  He despised this circumstance of fate.  Why should he be forced to grovel for something as essential as hygiene, a shower?

            Using the shaving kit, Teresa provided, he shaved the disgusting beard, bristled and unruly.   His clean-shaven face revealed another layer of this character, a man of doubt, anger, fear, and desperation.  Grant still could barely recognize himself.  His frame gangly, his face pale and his eyes bloodshot. 

            “Thank you for your kindness.” The act of saying thank you has never come easy for Grant. 

            “No need for gratitude.  You look sharp,” Teresa’s warm smile, pierced his ego.

            “Why are you being so nice to me?” Grant asked with a severe bluntness. “Who am I but a stranger, a man who doesn’t deserve to live, condemned to the shadows.  Why are you helping me?”

            “There is no greater gift or calling than to help a neighbor in need.  God is love, his love doesn’t judge by human standards.  It is filled with glorious hope, building a path out of darkness into light, second chances and the ability to rise, through that selfless love to meet obstacles with resiliency.  I cannot turn a blind eye to someone who is lost.  I’ve been lost. Who am I, but a sinner myself, a sojourner?  We are all called to give love selflessly, without expectation, not for personal reward or lauded glory, but because by forsaking the other, we forsake ourselves.  Ignoring the need of mankind, we ignore the truth of love and the capability of action in it.”

            “Love is all cupid and arrows to me.  Fleeting if anything.” Grant thought about his past romances.  Love had left him broken.

            “Love isn’t about fleeting passion.  It goes deeper than that.” Teresa could hear the tension of doubt, the anxious resentment and antagonism in Grant’s voice.

            “Heartache, pain, bitterness,” Grant rolled his eyes.

“Let me put it this way, in Greek there are four different definitions of love, each a form of love.  Physical love is Eros, desire of physical attraction.  Philia love is mental love, which is consideration of the other, but is a love of give and take, it has expectation; a dispassionate virtuous love, that you might have for an activity you enjoy or the general love of friends or family. Storge love is affection for family.   The type of love I’m referring to is Agape.  It is a spiritual gift from the Holy Spirit, it is an undefeatable benevolence and unconquerable goodwill.  It seeks the highest of the other, no matter what the other does.  It is self-giving love without asking or expecting anything in return, a love by choice, one’s own volition – love without considering the worth of the object.”

“I don’t think that agape love is possible.” Grant pondered.

“Today is Christmas, the memorial of Christ’s birth.  Christmas is about agape love.  Christ’s birth comes from God’s everlasting and insufferable love for his creation.  Christ loved us as his Father in heaven, love despite our flaws, love that is selfless and kind, compassionate and active.  Christ’s death on the cross is a sacrifice rooted in agape love.  Grace comes from Agape love.”

            “I’m an atheist and I frankly have a hard time comprehending a love that you invest in without getting a definite return.  A selfless love seems ridiculous to me.” Grant spoke honestly, still trying to grasp why people would bother to help the lost find their way. “I am nothing, in this tale anyway.  Still, you offer me shower and clothes, food and an ear to my trouble.  It seems foolish, wasting your time on me.  Yet your selflessness has offered me an open door.”

            “I have learned to give up a part of myself for the other, at first it was a chore, an irritant.  It took God’s work in me, the gift of the Holy Spirit and knowing that God loves me despite my flaws and selfishness.  When you experience the peace and joy of that love, you yearn to share it.  It is in the giving that you receive what matters most.”

            “It is in giving that you lose everything.” Grant disagreed.

            “Sometimes you have to lose everything, to find yourself.” Teresa held.

            “Seeing through the eyes of a beggar to serve as king,” the quote now imprinted on his mind, though his heart still refused the logic.  In losing everything, he felt desperate frustration – a rage against ‘God’ not a selfless love.  This test was cruel and harsh.  It didn’t feel like love, but punishment.

            “We are stubborn creatures, unable to perceive beyond our peripheral vision.  Even in that scope we get caught up in our own selfish desires and busy lives.  Daily we pass strangers on the street, nameless faces, with no consideration for them.  They each carry burdens of the world.  We forsake the other, not always by intent, but because we are lost in our own internal conflict – fears and hesitations, misconceptions, and pride.  You can see the most gut-wrenching scene on the street, a beggar, covered in dirt, with nothing but boxes and trash bags of belongings and in selfishness not take notice, or worse rebuke and forsake them.  One simple act of love can fuel the change for that person to act.”

            “Like offering me a shower and a fresh set of clothes,” Grant peeled by a layer of the truth, a ray of light piercing through his dark spirit.  Still, he struggled to accept that truth.

“Human kindness, respecting the other, gives a part of yourself to help the other. In turn you not only give but receive in the act of giving. That gift of compassion and respect stirs a kindling fire in the other soul, the lost, helping them to break through walls of doubt and despair so that they might be reawakened to the joys of life.  I know for every act of love, random acts of kindness, that mercy has filled my spirit.  I am renewed, not in regret and anger, but hope and trust in love.  That gift calls me to act.  Agape love, love for the other, least to greatest with not expectation.  The irony is that when giving love selflessly you are full, receiving gifts that nourish the soul, without the desire of a return on the investment.”

“You’re a better person than me,” Grant felt his pride crack.

“I don’t want to press you for life details if you are unwilling to share.  I know each person, particularly those who feel forsaken don’t always want to speak of the pain of their situation.  Still if you need a friend, a compassionate ear, I’m here to help.”

“I have a past that I cannot reconcile with the present.” Grant chose his words with restraint.  “I was on top of the world.  CEO of a leading big box chain on the west coast. I woke up and had nothing, not a penny to my name…I lived in a penthouse and had chauffeurs, people doing things for me.  I took everyone for granted, especially my secretary.  I thought that my stature deserved authority and entitlement.  Now living on the street, I can see that you should respect the other, but not expect their help as an entitlement, but grace of sorts.  In turn it is my responsibility to care about the person behind the job, not seeing them as disposable cash or a robot…”

“I lost my job several years ago.  I was a secretary to Horace Shelton of Northwest Trading Company.  He was a wonderful boss, with an understanding of the intricate dynamic of people and business.  He never sacrificed people for profits and business was strong.  Then The Great Recession hit, stockholders pulled out and Horace’s brother, Ryder made a few ill-advised business decisions and the company collapsed.  The company was sold to Zane Tyson, a tyrant who destroyed the value of Northwest Trading, draining its assets and then selling out to Chinese businessmen who laid off all employees and bought out the stocks and ran off with a small profit.  A small profit in dismantling the company was more than investing in the company’s quality product and workforce.”

“Zane Tyson purchased NWTC?” The statement stung.

“I landed on my feet after the layoffs.  Others weren’t so lucky.” Teresa bit her lip. “Sometimes we have to experience something to understand how our actions and their consequences affect other people.  I’m sorry you lost your livelihood, but hopefully you can grow from this experience and work in faith to pull yourself back up.  This time more concerned about loving people instead of money.  God sometimes uses harsh, seemingly unforgiving experiences to open our eyes to his love.  It seems counterintuitive, but like I said, humans are stubborn, and we don’t yield to truth easily, especially inconvenient truths.”

“I appreciate your help.  I better get going.”

“You don’t want to stay for Mass?”

“No, I don’t feel comfortable. Like I said, I’m not religious.”

“Listen, tonight we are co-hosting an ecumenical dinner for those in need at Saint Anthony’s Church near Pike’s Place.  There will be food, music, community – we’d be honored to break bread with you.”

“I don’t know.”  Grant didn’t like the idea of spending the night surrounded by homeless people desperate for a meal. It made him uncomfortable.

“Here’s the information.  If you need a ride, give me a call.” Teresa handed him the flyer, her card and twenty dollars in cash.

“I cannot take your money.”

“You need it more than I do. Use it for some lunch, or bus fare…I do hope you’ll come to tonight’s dinner.  No one should spend Christmas alone, especially torn apart by regret and bitterness.  Let Christmas begin a new chapter, a fresh start.”

“I’ll think about it, thanks.” Grant stalled, not sure where to go. He grabbed his backpack, a heavy load on his weak bones. 

Please excuse typos

Copyright 2021 (Adele Lassiter)

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