When I was thirteen, an event took place that forever altered my understanding of the purpose of Christmas. It was on the morning of Christmas day. We had prepared to go to church, all dressed fine and ready to show off to everyone how gorgeous we were looking. We had just finished a sumptuous meal of fried rice and chicken, our favourite for such special days. And my mom just knew how to make such meals memorable. All was going as expected. My younger sister made a little fuss about her eye-glasses, which was coming apart. With what looked like a flip of his hand, my dad fixed the glasses and averted what could have been a major cause of trouble that beautiful morning. Then he called on my mum to hurry up and not spend the whole day dressing up. She replied that she could not come out looking rough – typical of my mother. My sister and I were just in a hurry to get it all going…
A piercing scream from our neighbour’s flat temporarily suspended our thriving Christmas mood. It was undoubtedly an appeal for succour. I hesitated briefly and found myself standing alone in the living room. Every other person had run in the direction of the screaming voice. I briefly wondered to whom the highly-pitched voice belongs; it was clearly that of a woman. I had never heard anyone with such a voice in that compound of ours: trouble can make people do what is otherwise impossible. I was also temporarily annoyed at the sudden break in the flow of the day’s event. While I was selfishly gloating over nothing in our flat, my dad was busy trying to resuscitate our neighbour in the other flat, while my mum and sister anxiously looked on. After about a minute of hesitation, I dragged my feet to go on and join them to see what had happened – these women sometimes made an issue out of nothing. I had figured that whatever happened, my dad would have taken charge, plus the scream had died down after they must have gotten there.
I quietly eased my way into the troubled flat. It belonged to a young couple who had been married for less than two years and were yet to have a child, although the woman already had a protruding belly. I met everyone looking desperate, including the wife of our Catholic neighbour upstairs and the whole family of the Pentecostals who lived adjacent to them. The man of the house lay on the ground, stretched out with his hands by his sides and looking unconscious. I could not imagined what had happened to him. The women were trying to calm his young wife down and take her into the room, especially because of her pregnancy, while the men kept trying different first aid measures they knew. The children simply looked on in confusion. In my foolishness, I blurted out what I felt needed to be done at the moment, “Take him to the hospital now!” But those men knew better and were only waiting for the woman to be taken in before announcing their verdict – the man had given up the ghost. When she was later told about her young husband’s death, she let out another scream of infinitely higher pitch, so high it almost destroyed my eardrum…
That day, I knew the voice of sorrow. It was unique in an indescribable way. Perhaps more disturbing was the look I saw on the face of that troubled woman as she attempted to let out the pain and sorrow of her loss in a single scream. It was heart-breaking. Add the look on her face to the sound of her voice and you get a special effect one cannot communicate, but can only comprehend. I later gathered the rest of the story from my family. The man had complained of sharp painful stabs in his chest the previous night, and resolved to make a quick visit to the hospital on Christmas morning. But that visit was never to be, as he suddenly fell clutching his chest while dressing up to go out that tragic Christmas morning. Moods were suddenly altered, and plans were modified, as my parents had to see to the transportation of the man’s body to the hospital, where he was confirmed dead – a fact we already knew. And the women had to stay with the bereaved woman, whose daylight had been transformed into the darkness of death.
Amidst the overwhelming reality of tragedy on a Christmas day, I was deeply immersed in my own thoughts. What could this woman, and her unborn baby, could have done to deserve this? Did this kind of thing happen to a lot of families? Or did the rest of the world simply go on rejoicing while one woman suffered deeply in a season of celebration? Could God not put a hold on occurrence of evil while we celebrate and then let it continue well after celebration was over? What did Christmas mean to God anyway – the birth of Jesus? Was the birth of Jesus not supposed to mean the redemption of the world? Why then were people perishing? Out of selfish concern for a disrupted day, I mulled endlessly over several thoughts until I fell asleep on the couch in the living room, where I was alone and the TV was prattling away in what seemed like a strange language, given my present predicament. My sister had long succumbed to the power of the Somnolent Spirit, and my parents were out on account of the day’s occurrence.
When I awoke, I had literally slept over the thoughts in my mind before I drifted off to sleep. Like a flash of lightning, understanding dawned on me as I awoke – evil would never cease as long as the earth remains, neither would good. Everyone who is kept from evil must remain thankful to God. While we cannot keep evil from being in the earth, we can submit to God who is able to keep us from the Evil One and his deeds. And we must extend our hands of love to those who are not as privileged as we are, especially in our seasons of celebration. I had no dreams, no visions, no revelations. This four-fold understanding just opened up in my mind as I woke up that quiet afternoon. I never hope to see such a day again as long as I have breath. But the realisation that hit me that day left me completely transformed. Every Christmas, and on several other days, I still remember those two screams; each one revisiting me in succession amidst all the sobbing and weeping which accompanied them that day. And with the memory of the tragedy comes the memory of the truths I realised. It was indeed, a Christmas to remember.
December 31, 2011