My brother turned from the grill packed with beef dripping fat onto hardwood embers to wave his beer and bellow again at the party that had been swirling around him for two days.
“We don’t deserve any of this!”
It wasn’t the first time he’d tried to jolt us into looking at our family reunion with a little perspective, and it wouldn’t be the last. As a few dozen of us swam, shot hoops, stuffed ourselves and opened bottle after bottle after bottle, he shouted his reminder of our unwarranted blessings so often that it’s still echoing in my head nearly five months and 1,400 miles away.
That echo is getting louder as the calendar inches closer to the 25th.
It’s been with me on and off through the fall, especially when I read about the hardship in the world and then look at the way I live. Yeah, it’s drafty next to the windows and all the walls are catawampus in this old house, but I have to thank too many people who came before me to think I deserve anything this good on my own merits. And these days, the wide skirt under the Christmas tree and stockings hanging off the mantle remind me that even more bounty is coming.
Once you’ve been running on your own gas for a few years — paying the bills with money you work hard for and socking away to make sure you don’t have to work that hard forever — it’s easy to get the notion that you were due all you have.
I don’t know about you, but I only got here thanks to a good, long series of push starts.
When the rest of the country was getting a taste for consumer culture in the early 1920s, one of my grandmas — just a 7-year-old girl then — was camping in the wild with no company but sheep so she could make sure her family, not wolves, profited from the flock. The family built up enough so eventually my dad and her other kids were able to have a real childhood with school and Scouts to give them skills they’d need to earn much easier livings.
When that little girl had been pulling shepherd duty for a few years, a great-grandma on the other side of my family risked her life to shame an armed press gang out of taking her teenage boy to fight in Mexico’s Cristero civil war. Instead of dying for church or country, my grandpa toiled on his family’s ranch and years later was able to help raise my mom into a woman who worked her way up to a career in education.
Then my folks added to the momentum of those hard-won push starts until they could cruise on their own into easier lives and build up the power to give my brother and me push starts of our own.
He and I remind our kids from time to time about those lonely nights in the wild and that frightening stand amid rebellion that made it possible for them to spend their weekends playing sports and their nights drifting into reachable dreams of bountiful futures. We make sure they think about the patriotic work of the teachers and the civil servants and all the others who built and maintained this country they were so lucky to be born into.
They know we wouldn’t be here without gifts we did nothing to deserve.
And here during Advent, my wife and I make sure our boys have time amid “Jingle Bells” and the visit to Santa and the wish lists to talk about the unearned gift our world received on the first Christmas. They remember how it comforts them when it feels like they have nothing, swells the joy of their abundance and promises them a perfect future one day.
We don’t deserve any of this, but thank God we’re blessed with it.
Richard Espinoza is a former editor of the Johnson County Neighborhood News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.