By WENDY HODGE
It’s that time of year again. I love Christmas and the whole month from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve – all the planning and buying and parties and food! But, the other day, when someone asked me what I wanted most from Santa, I responded without even thinking – “Quiet. I want a whole lot of quiet.”
Maybe it’s the state of the political climate; maybe it’s the after effects of a world-altering pandemic; or maybe it’s just that I’m getting old. But everything seems so … noisy! Traffic is at an all-time high in our city, and with that comes the constant blaring of horns and road-rage-fueled yells from open windows. Shoppers in Walmart and the grocery store seem to be speaking at full volume, and my ears are constantly ringing. Every time money comes out of my bank account, my phone bleeps loudly at me — and it happens frighteningly often! Even the Christmas music I love so much has become irritating. It loops constantly in my office, every day from 7:30 to 5 p.m. If I hear Englebert Humperdinck sing ‘Blue Christmas’ one more time, I just may take to drinking.
I’ve never been a Scrooge. I tend to be more like Buddy the Elf, all excited and giddy at the thought of all this Christmas noise. But not this year. This year I am channeling Ebenezer quite brilliantly. Maybe I just need a day off to lay in bed and listen to nothing but my own breathing.
This morning, after my shower spent wondering how likely it would be that I could win the lottery and plan my solitary day of quiet, I turned on the news … on mute, because there’s nothing louder than talking news heads in the morning.
And there it was, filling the screen — a snapshot. Slightly blurry and off center, the photo was of three little girls. Their gap-toothed grins and curly blond hair left no doubt they were sisters. Two of the girls were lying in the bathtub, snuggled together, in sweatshirts and ponytails. One of the girls held a doll tightly in her arms. The third girl was leaning against the edge of the tub. All three were locking eyes with whoever took the picture.
I wish I’d turned off the television right then. I could have just carried that sweet image in my head today. But the caption appeared underneath the photograph — “PHOTO TAKEN MOMENTS BEFORE TORNADO KILLS CHILD.”
And so I reached for the remote and tapped the volume key. The words rolled over me while I stood there. You’ve probably heard their story by now. The girls lived in Kentucky with their parents. Like we all have been told to do, they were sheltering in the bathroom while tornados sliced through their county. Their mom took that picture to send to relatives to assure them that they were all safe.
Just minutes later, none of them were safe.
When nature was through with them, they found themselves in a field not far from the remains of their house. One of the girls lay there with a broken back and now faces major surgery. Another of the three girls is in a coma with severe brain damage and more than likely will never wake up. And the third will never wake up again at all. She was still holding her doll when they found her body.
Relatives spoke for the parents on the news because I imagine the last thing on the parents’ mind right now is what the rest of us in the world think of their story. I imagine they are struggling to merely survive each second as it comes. I imagine the grief they are buried in must weigh more than any human being should ever have to bear.
The family’s neighbor said that when the tornado touched down on their street there was no noise at all. Only a deathly quiet.
Looking at the photo that’s still on the screen of three precious girls, I can almost hear the giggles that must have echoed in that room as they crowded together, waiting out the storm and ready to run free in the house once again. I bet they talked about Christmas and their friends and what was for dinner. I can almost hear their mom saying, “Only a few more minutes” and their dad reassuring them “Everything’s fine.”
But then it all got quiet. And now their house will forever be the worst kind of quiet there is — that empty quiet when someone who once talked and laughed and sighed and sang is no longer there to make a sound at all.
And I am so ashamed. How dare I resent one noisy moment I have when I am so abundantly blessed with sounds I love and the people who make them. I’ve been in a house where the silence of loss is a palpable thing, and I should have learned the lesson of gratitude better than I have.
So today, and every day that is left of this year, I will not turn down the volume on the television or the radio or life itself. I will soak it all in, because every second I’m breathing and listening is a gift. An irreplaceable gift, that you can never replenish.
The dogs are at the front window barking at the neighbor’s inflatable snowman. The brakes on the garbage truck at the corner are squealing. The alarm on my phone is ringing. The coffee maker is beeping because it’s low on water. And my phone just bleeped as my last dollar drained out of the bank.
And I’m smiling through my tears. It’s a Jimmy Stewart — Wonderful Life kind of moment.
“What’s wrong?” Tim asks.
“Absolutely nothing,” I answer.
He smiles and shakes his head at me. He’s wise enough to know the ways a woman’s mind works will forever be a mystery.
Since I still haven’t won the lottery, I will head to work. And maybe I’ll even sing along with Englebert Humperdinck.
Merry Christmas, everyone. May your life be full of beautiful noise.