By Naomi Klouda
Now that I have experienced Homer’s Share the Spirit season up close, it’s always a challenge to write of it in my capacity as a news reporter. I often feel inadequate to the task. In giving the facts and details, I won’t be able, for instance, to talk about the scale of the truly miraculous event it is, which so many people orchestrate together. Or that, receiving its gifts, it leaves lingering good feelings many years later. Or that its light truly illuminated a dark time in my own life.
Three years ago just weeks before Christmas, my 11-year-old son Lance and I lost our home to a fire in the middle of the night. Most of our belongings either burned or were ruined by smoke damage. We walked away while firefighters still battled the blaze after midnight. Lance wore a pair of pajamas he would be wearing for two days. I had been up trying to coax my Christmas tree to stand upright, and so walked out in day clothes.
Thanks to the help of many friends and strangers, we were able to slowly gather the things we needed to carry on: A temporary place to stay. Towels, pillows, beds, clothes, pans, dressers, couch. In the numbing actions necessary of trying to forget the loss, but not forget to buy a new broom and mop, the joy for Christmas was eking out of me. Who cares about finding something to wipe the dishes off when one should preserve the mind space to ponder making Christmas special – what to get for my mother, my grown children and Lance?
I considered that just when I am supposed to be giving to loved ones and friends around me, it’s self-disappointing and even humiliating to be the one constantly on the receiving end. Yet, since reactions are complicated, it also proved a joyous time in its own way. The kind where a warm soul shows up in the newsroom to bring me laundry baskets and a new bathrobe, and those events kept occurring.
Yet, in the midst of these lows, along came yet another surprise. Even though we hadn’t filled out an application to become an Adopted Christmas Family or a recipient of a Christmas basket, a truck pulled up on Dec. 22. Boxes and bags and more boxes and bags were offloaded. Once assembled on the kitchen floor, it looked suspiciously like a whole lot of love – from faces who might be familiar to us, and from strangers.
The truth about the Share the Spirit tradition in Homer showed itself not only in purchased gifts and donated foods, but in handmade wonders and even art. A hand-knitted lavender scarf so warm and thick, a prized part of my winter accessories even today. The pair of red coffee mugs accompanied by instant hot chocolate and marsh mellows, for Lance and me to enjoy as soon as we got them unpacked. A local photographer’s printed wildlife I could hang on a wall. And wrapped gifts to place under the tree. Food to put away in not-yet stocked cupboard.
The cumulative effect of the experience stays with us these years later, when, as another Christmas arrives, we remember that one as somehow a great memory. The truth is, for us, Share the Spirit swept through our lives so forcefully, it replaced deep sadness with something very much on the other side of happiness.
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