Friends Old, New, and Soon to Be,
About ten years ago I was in a well-appointed gymnasium running on a treadmill because the weather was such that I didn’t feel like being out in it. Then, as now, it was the Christmas season, a time when even the Marine Corps slows down to allow people subject to long absences and missed milestones with families. Ignore the sad irony of a US Marine Raider and waterfowler, someone tasked with amphibious special operations in austere and inhospitable climates, avoiding a jog in the mist because he didn’t feel like being damp and cold. Just envision me warm and comfortable and mindless, running nowhere fast, numbed by a bank of 60-inch televisions.
The television in front of me was tuned to the kind of local news program that features heartwarming local human-interest stories sandwiched between tax bonds and road closures. I generally ignore that sort of thing, but the monotony of the treadmill left me at least half-focused on a perky reporter interviewing a teenage boy.
The boy was fifteen and a ward of the state. I don’t know why. I wasn’t paying enough attention. That changed when the reporter asked him what he wanted for Christmas and the boy said he just wanted to be part of a family before he turned eighteen. I come from a family where I know my fifth and sixth cousins well and I swear my heart broke like a massive wall of ice cleaved from a glacier, sheets of ice smashing into water; foam and waves exploding outward. I went home and told my wife about what I’d seen, then I thought about that boy for days.
I wish I could tell you how great it was to cheer that young man across a high school graduation stage or watch him put on the cloth of the nation; to see him finish college or start work as an electrician. I wish I could tell you I made a difference for that boy. Instead, I relied on a host of excuses to convince myself it wasn’t the right time or place or condition to bring someone else into our home. We were not as financially stable as I wanted to be. We were a military family, subject to constant moves. With a two-year-old daughter, I wasn’t comfortable bringing a fifteen-year-old boy I didn’t know into our home. Ultimately, I made no room at the inn. I didn’t even offer space in the barn.
Over the course of the decade since, I’ve sought to assuage my guilt with internet searches I hope will tell me that boy found someone better than I. I’ve called the local TV stations and described the story I watched that day, hoping to find out there was a happy ending despite my weakness. Still, I know nothing more about his outcome. Maybe that uncertainty is what I deserve for failing to give that boy the one thing he wanted in this world, just a little bit of the love and family with which I am so blessed.
I can’t go back and do what I failed to do for a boy who is hopefully now a successful man. But I have never stopped thinking of him and wishing I had been the kind of man he needed. Christmas is a time when we all should look for chances to be better versions of ourselves. Somewhere nearby, amidst holiday sales and stunning displays of lights, there is someone who needs something wholly within your ability to provide; something with which you’re saturated. You need not seek them out, just be aware when you find them. Then take a risk and forego your misgivings.
It’s the giving season after all.
Russell Worth Parker
Editor-in-Chief, Tom Beckbe