Dr. Cooper entered the lab and sat before his monitor.
Turning it on, he said, “Good morning, Henri.”
“Good morning, Dr. Cooper. Can we continue our discussion on the purpose or spirit of Christmas?”
“That sounds good. I’ll tell you another story.”
Maya woke up cold and shivering in the back seat of the car. Exhaling, she watched her breath as it swirled and evaporated. The icy-cold air seeped in from around the window frames and settled in her bones, stealing away her sleep. Wearing layers of clothing and wrapped in a thin blanket, she looked toward the front seat. Her father had not yet returned.
But, it’s Christmas Eve!
Lying back, a single tear escaped her eye and rolled down her cheek. Maya tried to stop the sobs that threatened to burst free.
What good do they do anyway?!
Her efforts were in vain. Wet cold trails of tears pooled in her ears. Speaking into the silence, white mist blew as smoke.
“I want no gifts, just my dad. Please bring him back to me.”
They had driven from town to town, her father finding and losing jobs, earning enough for rent and food each time. But the well had run dry and no jobs were to be found. They moved on until they ran out of money for gas. The car was stuffed with their remaining worldly possessions including a few nick-nacks to remember her mother by. A year before, she had sat by her mother’s bedside.
Before she died, her mother said, “Take care of each other.”
They had spent every last penny on her mother’s medical bills. Maya’s father was broken-hearted. His spirit crushed by her death. The allure of drink, to dull the pain, consumed him.
Yanked from her painful memories, Maya jumped at the sound of her father’s knuckles wrapping on the side window of the car. A woman stood beside him. She wore the look of a social worker. As the key turned in the lock, Maya cried out.
“No, dad, please don’t let her take me away! I want to stay with you!”
Maya’s voice rose to a nearly hysterical pitch as the blanket fell away, and she pushed with her heels until her back was pressed against the door on the other side of the car.
“I can’t be apart from you! Please, dad, no! We told mom we would take care of each other,” she cried, the last part came out in a whimper.
Reaching inside the car, he gathered her into his strong arms.
“You misunderstand, sweetie.”
Rocking her back and forth, he said, “It’s Christmas and my gift to you is to fulfill my promise to your mom, to get help, stop drinking, and take care of you. I’ve let you down, Maya. I’ve let your mom down.”
He looked over his shoulder toward the woman standing on the curb.
“Betty was a good friend of your moms in school. That’s why we came to this town. She and her husband have four children. They’ll take care of you until I’m ready. You’ll be warm and fed. At the right time, I’ll come and get you, I promise! Your gift to me is to stay with Betty.” He hesitated. “And … to forgive me.”
Maya couldn’t hold back but sobbed freely into his chest. This time her tears were ones of hope born with his promise.
Dr. Cooper said, “For many people, Christmas is a time to reflect.”
“Reflect on what?” asked Henri.
“For a few weeks each year, people pause to review who they are and consider what’s truly important in their lives.”
“Is that what the spirit of Christmas is, the gathering of family and friends, and a time to reflect?” asked Henri.
“In part, it is. When the father in this story reflected and promised to change, he gave hope to his daughter. A significant part of the spirit of Christmas is found in giving. But, we’ll talk more about that tomorrow,” said Dr. Cooper.