It was probably three years ago last spring that I first noticed them. They were an old couple in their late 70’s, walking hand in hand down the street – out for their evening stroll. It was early evening as Gracie and I drove by on the way to the dog park and I remember an involuntary smile coming over my face as I saw this little expression of their affection for each other.
Although I’ve only seen them while driving, I feel as though I know them well. Their faces, heavily creased by their years speak volumes about the lives they have led. I am certain that they come from eastern Europe because they have the sad look of those who have spent most of their lives in a totalitarian state. Perhaps they are from a former Soviet Socialist Republic, Ukraine or Georgia.
I’ve met many people over the years who escaped from the grip of communist regimes, from Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Latvia. They are grateful for their freedom. But the years that they spent being told how to live and what to think are so deeply ingrained that their new found freedom does not seem to be able to completely overcome these early formative memories. It always shows in their eyes.
One day I saw Vladimir, or so I’ve named him, walking without his wife whom I’d named Olga. As I drove by my heart missed a beat as I worried whether Olga were ill or had passed away. And then I didn’t see either of them for more than a month. If I knew where they lived I would have stopped by to see if there were anything that I could do for them.
Fortunately, a few weeks later I saw them once again walking down the street, hand in hand. I remember breathing a sigh of relief. All was well. There they were, with that same slightly tired look on their weather worn faces.
When I first moved to Las Vegas I was amazed at the gusto with which people decorated their homes in honor of the Holidays. The Thanksgiving leftovers had barely been put away when my neighbors’ front lawns were filled with step ladders and plastic inflatable penguins and reindeers and strips of light were being put up on the eaves of the houses.
There was little in all this which suggested Christmas – no crèches or angels or wise men – but to each his own. There was at least a spirit of celebration. But I’ve noticed that over the last few years that has changed. And I see on the faces of my neighbors fewer smiles and more visages that resemble those borne by my old couple, faces filled with care and tiredness.
While in years past virtually everyone made an attempt to decorate his home with some sort of display, it is amazing that as I pulled into the gate this evening I was struck by how dark the neighborhood looked. The only lights came from the street lamps. I doubt this is in deference to any sort of political correctness which sucks out the joy from all celebrations unless they are found on the approved list.
No, I suspect that this lack of enthusiasm reflects the sense of malaise that emanates from Washington. That a majority of us now believe that we are led by a man whom we do not believe is honest and that even more of us believe to be incompetent and that we are coming to believe we have lost our direction and, in large measure, have lost a sense of hope.
While the war on Christmas continues unabated in our school programs and in our public displays, those of us who still believe in the miracle of humility – which is the essence of the Holy Day – can look for the old couple in our own neighborhoods, holding hands as they slowly walk down the street and remember that as long as there is one person who is grateful for the holiday we call Christmas, hope is still alive and can still work miracles – if we are willing to receive them.