Are you getting lots of stuff for Christmas? Did you ever consider, that stuff has a story?
Flea markets fascinate me. I think I got this fixation from my Grandmother’s basement which was filled with mysteries from the past - my grandfather’s old carpentry tools, and other artifacts from a time I had only heard about by anecdote. I would wonder at these clues, trying to imagine what kind of man my Grandfather was. Accordingly, I see flea markets with fresh eyes. When I see some old family picture that is there merely for novelty and curios, I try to imagine the untold stories that go with the picture, who the person was, what their life must have been like.
Sometimes I do that with money too. I take a bill or a coin and I look at it, and it’s true what your Mother said, you don’t know where that money has been, whether it has paid for a christening dress or a if it paid for a date with the other woman who broke up a marriage.
Stuff, it has a story. There is always more to an item than meets the eye. I have an artifact from my own past which may one day end up in a flea market, a pair of hand-made bells from a Christmas Market, and every year when I hang those bells up around Christmas time, I think of how they were part of my own history. I wonder if someone will one day look at them like just another piece of junk, and never know the story behind them.
There is a series of events by which these bells landed in my hands. I was engaged to be married. I was also trying to relocate my life in Calgary, and one of the things I did was a booth in the Calgary Stampede, a sure moneymaker according to the local lore. Calgary is a boom bust kind of place, and I was in a bust year, I just didn’t know it. Oil was down, people were laid off, and did not have money to spend. I was trying to cover off all avenues, I was doing cowboy caricature portraits, and also selling T-shirts on the side which I had designed and printed myself. Added to this cost, was the rent for a booth, vending permits, and royalties to the Calgary Stampede corporation. A long line of people to be paid up front. By the time Stampede week came, I had invested some fairly serious coin in that one week gamble.
Stampede week rolled around., and bad economics severely impacted spending. Even the guy beside me who was selling french fries, was not making money. In fact, he packed up in the middle of the week and sent all his employees home because he said he was not covering his payroll or even his hydro.
I didn’t fare much better. My week was an epic fail. I made fifteen dollars in total. All the money I had paid up front, was sewered down the drain, and I was six months from getting wed.
You might wince or smile at this. Unfortunately there comes some points in life where you don’t know what is going to happen next and your life is in the garbage can. I tried to sell those t-shirts at various and sundry events. Just couldn’t get rid of them for love or money, they were like a bad luck albatross hanging around my neck.
Finally one day I went downtown and just started wading through the crowds and handing out those T-shirts for free. I was fed up and wanted to be done with the reminder of them. A guy called out, “hey this guy is handing out FREE T-SHIRTS”. Suddenly, I was mobbed. My handful of T-shirts were gone, in about 30 seconds. Those who grabbed a free T-shirt out of my hands, would never comprehend just how much those T-shirts had cost me. They were free, but not cheap. To this day I can’t hear the phrase “well, he lost his shirt in that bargain” without wincing.
The last of my T-shirts I donated to a craft festival in our parish to raise money for charity. Someone else brought in hand made Christmas bells. I traded the last of my T-shirts for a few bells and every year they remind me that there is more to their journey than meets the eye.
So now you know the rest of the story. It’s never just stuff. You and me, we are just items from the grab bin of life’s big lost and found. When I look at my bells, I think of how life has its share of bad luck and everyone gets their turn. But hope arrives when we least expect it, and life is a miracle that just seems to go on just the same. Because of my bells, I have come to think of Christmas as the holiday of the lost and found, the little forgotten items which turn up after another year and remind us of the times in life when we felt like we hit a dead end and yet somehow survived.
There is always a story behind the story. Jesus did not come just as a baby in a manger. He came to seek and save that which was lost. Those who have been lost a few times, will appreciate better than anyone else, what it means to be found. For them, it really is Christmas - not just on the 25th, but every single day of the year.