Christmas Mitzvahs and New Years Blessings

It was the day before Christmas, 2010. I hadn’t bought everything I needed for the holiday yet, so I was a bit frantic. As usual, I was performing with a choir on Christmas Eve, so I had places to go and notes to sing.

I had just loaded all my groceries into the car, and was trying get out of the crowded parking lot, when I saw a frazzled-looking woman wandering around from lane to lane pushing her cart. Clearly she had forgotten where she had parked. After some minutes of searching aimlessly, she actually came out with it, wailing to the universe, “I can’t find my car!”

I hesitated for a moment, thinking about the frozen products I had sitting in my trunk, and then figured that it was the perfect day to do a mitzvah — a good deed. I drove my car into the lane where she had just landed (no small feat, considering the frantic drivers maneuvering through the full parking lot to do their critical holiday food shopping), and rolled down my window. I asked her if I could help her find her car.

“Thank you so much,” she says. She is almost crying. She can’t leave her full grocery cart, so I ask her for the license plate number. “I don’t know,” she says.

What kind of car?

“I don’t know; I’m so bad with that. Maybe a Buick. It has four doors.”

What color is it?

“Sort of… champagne.”

Hmm.

“It has an antenna on the rear windshield.”

Okay.

She has half-blonde hair with deep roots, a lot of lipstick, black sequins on her scarf, and turquoise chandelier earrings. I wonder what her story is. She doesn’t know what kind of car she has?

I take off and cruise the parking lot for about 10 minutes without seeing anything that I think could be her car. I finally give up, because I too need to get back home and finish my holiday preparations. And I have so little to go on. I drive back to where she is standing by her cart.

She seems calmer now.

I’m so sorry, I say, I can’t find it at all. Maybe you should go back inside and get someone at the store to watch your cart, and I’m sure they can drive you around until you recognize it….

“Thank you,” she says. “I’ll figure it out. My mother died today.”

I step back, stunned. It takes my breath away.

No wonder she is a little frazzled looking. I hug her, and tell her I am sorry.

I couldn’t find her car for her, but I was glad that I had tried. A small thing to do for another human being. On a day when she needed it.

I lost my mom on December 31st, 1994. Seventeen years ago, but I still miss her. These holidays are rich with layers, remembrances of Christmases past. Joys and sorrows. Beginnings and endings. Coming back around every year and bringing those memories with them.

A few years ago, when my Dad was 85 or so, he couldn’t find his car in the grocery store parking lot. A kind man drove him around in the dark, and when they had to give up, the man drove him home. The next day, in the sunshine, Dad found it parked around the corner from the store. He felt very sheepish. But I was so glad to hear that someone had helped him get home. A kind stranger doing a mitzvah. So last year I paid it forward.

One of my friends is going through domestic turmoil. She is planning to move out of her house, and trying to get herself safely situated before she tackles the bigger questions… like, what is she going to do for the rest of her life? She was driving home from Christmas Eve dinner at her sister’s in the next state, and as she pulled up to a tollbooth, the moneyman waved her through. “The lady up ahead paid for you. She said to tell you Merry Christmas, and God loves you.” Passing it on…

And last year on December 24th, which was the fifth anniversary of the day I pinpoint as the date on which I fell in love with my husband, I was singing with him at a glorious, candle-lit, Christmas Eve service. Right in the middle of “O Come All You Faithful,” when he had quietly stepped out of the bass section of the choir, I heard the ringing sound of his trumpet playing a high descant in harmony with the voices and the organ. As the peels of that bright sound came down all around the church, bringing memories of my Dad, also a trumpet player, and all the Christmases of years past, I felt the amazing miracle of our love. That I found him; that he found me; that we get the chance to make a life together which continues to get sweeter every year.

And last night, just before we fell asleep, I listened again to the voicemail message he left me six years ago on my cell. That Christmas Eve, in 2005, we had seen each other for dinner, then stood and watched the sun go down over Long Island Sound. That’s the moment I think I catapulted into love. But we had to leave each other after dinner to sing at our respective Christmas Eve services.

In the voicemail message, left late that night six years ago, he said that he had thought of me “just as they were lighting the candles at the very end of the service. I was thinking that tonight was so perfect, and I couldn’t think of anything that could have made it more perfect. And then finally I did think of something that would make it even more perfect… and that would be, if I could be singing with you.”

And now I sing with him every day. We have joined our lives.

Miracles do happen.

It’s the holidays again. Seventeen years ago, I lost a mom. Six years ago, I gained a loving partner. Three years ago, I lost a dad. Life goes on, full of joy and grief, and we survive.

Blessings to you as we begin again this year.

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