Friday, December 11, 2009

The Christmas List

I felt unusually good as I turned off the busy roadway toward home—maybe I would be ready for Christmas after all.
I had a tree in the trunk of my car—not just a tree, a beautiful tree. I had my eye on it from the moment I entered the tree farm; but the price was higher than I planned on spending. As I turned to leave a gentlemen selling trees stopped me.
"You know they're all half price!"
"Great—then I'll take that one right over there!"
As he bound the tree and prepared to put it in the trunk I went inside to pay the cashier.
"Check that off my list," I thought as I backed out of the lot. There was still so much to do. I turned up the Christmas music and headed home.

It had been less than two months since the night of my husband's dreadful hit and run motorcycle accident—the night he had been left for dead in the middle of a dark busy road only a mile from our home; weeks filled with surgeries and doctor's visits—not much time to plan and shop.

But I made a list and checked "things to do" off daily. I could not believe that I was almost at the end of my list.
—Bake cookies.
—Few last minute gifts.
—Meal for Henry...

Henry came into our life a few years earlier and we watched as he struggled to keep a roof over his head. Mental illness and other disabilities caused him to fall further and further behind until he was finally evicted from his home. He spent a Christmas Eve with us that year which turned into a number of weeks. He was so grateful that we allowed him to stay, that he kept us in firewood that winter—supplying us with wood from some of his clearing jobs. He could singlehandedly down a tree faster than anyone I had ever seen.

Now Henry was completely homeless. I heard he was living off the side of the road; first in his truck, until someone allowed him to stay in a small work trailer on the property. It had been an unusually cold November followed by a chilling early December.

Perhaps it was exposure—Henry ended up in the hospital the second week into December with symptoms of pneumonia. He was released but still not well. One day he asked my son if he could stop by and clean up for a doctor's appointment. When I spoke to him that day I was once again taken back by his personable manner. I asked him how he was feeling—we talked for a while.
"It's nice talking to you again Mary."

It was then that I added Henry to my list.
—Make a meal for Henry and take it to him—perhaps Christmas Eve.
It was sad to see him in this condition. My hands were full—but I could certainly make him a meal.

As I neared the curve before my road snow began falling lightly on the windshield. Beautiful tree in the trunk—snow falling—maybe it will be a white Christmas after all!
Suddenly without any visible warning a deer ran down a hill hidden from sight and crashed headlong into the side of my car. The jolt brought the car to a sudden stop and I sat stunned, realizing I had hit something big. I had never hit anything before in my life.

I got out of my car and walked back to the deer—something drivers are warned never to do—but I did. He was lying still, alive—eyes open; but he appeared to be dying.
I began to cry,"I'm so sorry—I'm so sorry!"

For the first time since my husband's accident, the reality of someone leaving a human being in the middle of a dark road, knowing they could be hit by other cars and trucks, hit me. The memory of the state police coming to my door in the middle of the night, holding Ed's helmet and tattered shirt, shocked me. My husband was truly left for dead. Whoever left him there was brought to an abrupt stop, just as I was. Yet that person drove off and left him there to die.

I got back into my car and headed home, figuring I would call the police and report the deer's location.
The excitement of finding a tree had diminished.

Later that evening my son received a call. It was the police. At first I thought it might have to do with the deer, but soon realized this was even more serious. He stopped answering questions long enough to tell me that Henry was found dead in the trailer. Henry was not an old man—this was so unexpected.
He had apparently died in his sleep, possibly from his illness. The police realized he was homeless and were calling contacts found on his cell phone trying to get information.
I felt so saddened—the very last item on my list. I would not be making a meal for Henry.

The more I thought about him the more I wondered, had he also been left for dead off the side of the road? Was I guilty as well?

As I check off the items on my list this year I am reminded of Henry and realize that we all leave others for dead to a greater of lesser degree. We all have Henrys in our lives. They may not be homeless—but they are those who have not been able to keep up with the world, for one reason or another.
The last item on my list may very well be the most important thing I have "to do."

But Henry did have a special Christmas dinner the night he died we later found out. Another homeless man prepared a special meal for him over a camp fire earlier that night; fillet mignon —and they enjoyed it together. I am very thankful for that.

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