December 25, 2003

This Silent Night (Our Spiritually-Oriented Christmas Entry)

THERE IS SOMETHING TO BE SAID for moments of silence -- not the fleeting moments in which a man is given the chance to bow his head, but rather those instances of absolute quiet in which one becomes acutely aware of one's surroundings. One such moment I had came a couple weeks ago: I was outside of a gas station during a snowstorm in the dead of night, and the roads were deserted. It was so quiet I could hear my heart beat.

It is in those moments where a person's innermost thoughts come to bear; and I had another of those moments this Christmas night.

After I got home from the movie (see entry below), I went on-line, and idly checked my referral logs for the site. I saw a site listed that I hadn't noticed before. I had no idea how I got mentioned there, but I apparently had; and so I went and gave it a look.

Ten minutes later, my heart was in my throat and I was on the verge of tears -- and it has been a very long time since I cried. For the site's first entry struck at the deepest part of my soul; that place where I keep my innermost hopes and dreams, as well as my fears.

Those who know me well are aware I don't open up much about those things. I may complain once in a while about my lot -- we all do that -- but in my personal life, I do everything I can to be strong. I do everything I can to be that shoulder for others to rest upon. I do that not merely because I want to be there for the people in my life; but also because I work in a hard business and I sometimes have to deal with a lot of hard things. Tenacity, as it turns out, remains very much an important life skill even in this comfortable age.

Still, there are always those things which can pierce the strongest armor; and that entry had several things which pierced mine.

The essay in question is a Christmas story. It was written by a woman named Denita: not too much older than I, apparently in Texas, whose brother was born in physical circumstances quite similar to my own. Three months premature; in a rather bad way right at the start, surgeries along the way, stuck in an incubator for months. He and I were even born about the same time, in the mid-Seventies. These are the similarities.

The difference is that he was not as lucky as I was.

For the only way you can tell I went through all that is from the scars on my body: the tracheotomy scar on my neck, the massive scar on my side from when they tied off my paten ductus. That those scars are all the evidence which remains of the struggle is a true blessing. There were so very many like me who did not make it; and there were others who did, but who still carry severe health problems. In the case of Denita's brother, it was hydrocephalus: a rare condition in which fluids build up on the brain.

In her essay, she writes about an instance when that nearly killed him. After he had healed up, and things were back to normal again, she wrote: "Somewhere along the way that month, I stopped giving a damn about getting presents." And, as she writes later, she knows damn well that the Christmas gifts under the tree are not the gifts which matter. It is a truism which in my life, I too often forget. That I do often forget that prompts nothing but a sense of burning shame in my heart.

For I ought remember that I am damned lucky to have any of what I have: not merely a success here or there in life, or the material goods which I possess, but an amazing set of life experiences and wonderful amazing friends and my family, whom I hold so very dear in my heart. The world and everything in it cannot replace those things, nor substitute for them. Neither can they replace the pleasures of life which I have been so lucky to enjoy -- whether something as complex as the act of putting words to print as I am doing now, or as simple as breathing.

And so, this Christmas, having regained that necessary sense of perspective, I stand a man very much humbled. It is something for which I am very thankful, and I hope that three months or a year down the line, I will have not again forgotten the lessons of which I was reminded tonight. It would do me much good, I think, if this time around they actually stick.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at December 25, 2003 11:59 PM | TrackBack

Wow! That was a very beautiful post, sir, and I'm glad and honored that my story touched you so deeply. I've carried it in my heart for so many years, and I knew I couldn't go my first Christmas blogging, without putting it out to a wider audience...

FYI--that frail little brother of mine is now a handsome and healthy 6'1", 165-pound, 27 year-old man! He still has the pump in his head, and the tubing running to his abdomen, but he is strong and smart and cooks like a five-star chef, tends a garden, and works as a bit of a handyman around my Mom's house. He drives me up one wall and down the other, like normal brothers do, but he loves his sis (me) and the sun rises and sets on his little nephew Zane... I just hope that someday he finds a lovely lady to settle down with...!


Posted by: Denita TwoDragons at December 26, 2003 11:55 AM