Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday December 24, 2018. 

It was 2am when the dog started growling in that way that means one thing: someone is too close to the house. Shortly after the growling, light beams started flickering through the bedroom curtains. We got up to look: someone was running through our backyard with a flashlight. Admittedly, that was strange. We live in a safe neighbourhood without too much rowdiness or crime. When the back alley light shone on the man’s back we realized he was part of the police force.

We then noticed a police car parked at one end of the back lane and another on the street. There were a few police officers running through our yard (not fenced,) and then back through the back lane. They had dogs too. We wondered who they were after and what was happening but there was not much to find out no matter how hard we stared, so we went back to bed.

We slept in, happily enjoying the second morning of Christmas vacation. The sun was shining when we got up and the back yard seemed untouched. We knew better, but there was no way to tell. I wondered if any of the neighbours noticed anything. I guess we’ll find out over the next few days.

We followed our Sunday routine, enjoying the slow and easy hours of it. As the day was coming to an end and one day closer to Christmas Day, I thought of the nighttime rush through the back alley and our backyard. It was wild, but we could go back to bed feeling safe; and we were. Someone made sure of it.

Someone will be out there on alert on Christmas Eve to make sure of that, and every day after that. Same for medical staff and emergency services, including paramedics and firefighters. People we do not know but cannot afford to forget about.

Life gets busy. It is too easy to forget of the people looking out for our collective safety (that includes volunteers too!), and too easy to forget about their absence from family Christmas dinners and jolly Christmas mornings. It’s been said many times, but once more is hardly redundant; it’s necessary.

There are so many out there smoothing out the creases of life unfolding, some as ugly as can be. I believe awareness of this kind makes us appreciate the presence of our loved ones more and it makes us appreciate the society we are part of.

Beyond presents and food, too much of both at times, presence is what matters the most, no matter how shiny the bows on presents and how sweet the treats.

It is also too easy to forget about so many people whose Christmas days are not the same because life dealt them a harsh card.

This year was a heavy one for some of the people I know and for some I did not know but whose stories I came across. I got to know parents who lost children to drug addiction and suicide and I am humbled by my own innocence when it comes to the reality of the heaviness they carry with them every day and more so around Christmas. The stigma of both is an undeserved punishment and an unfair one at that; my wish is that one day soon enough will see us all past the judgement (which only adds more pain) and closer to lending a hand and open our hearts to aching parents and families in mourning.

I got to meet parents whose children are there but not the same way they once were. The story of Jessie Simpson is one of heartbreak which many of us teared up hearing about. I know that Christmas will never be the same for his family, but the support so many showed, financially and otherwise, helps build bridges to renewed hope for his mom and others who love him.

I have also learned of children who lost a parent, and as I get myself busy baking and cooking for the days ahead which will be spent with family and friends, having my sons close and seeing their faces inundated with joy is by far the biggest gift I can hope for. The one thing that matters: presence. My wish is to see us all value that more than any material gifts.

Letting the days of Christmas holiday be touched by more than a tinge of sadness at times is what paves the way to more and deeper gratefulness. Just the same, keeping ourselves aware of the immense gift of being surrounded by loved ones at Christmas, and without a worry about whether our safety is at risk, that is to be thankful for.

There’s no better way to show it but by finding ways to be kind as we go about life on the days that follow. Here’s to each of us finding even a sliver of time and wholeheartedness to be thankful and show it in paying it forward, whichever way we deem appropriate. That is my wish for Christmas. To remember, to be thankful and to be kind as we walk the path of life. To judge less and help more. To remember our humanity, the common denominator in times of sadness and joy.