To the Editor:
My eyes opened to the early darkness of a cold winter morning. I looked at my alarm clock: 4 a.m. Can’t I even sleep in on Christmas? Ah yes, Christmas morning! This, however, is not just any Christmas; it’s baby’s first Christmas.
This was something special. My thoughts stopped for a moment to listen for anyone else stirring about, but I heard nothing.
Baby’s first Christmas: soon the grandparents would arrive with arms full of presents. Food and drink would be flowing along with the laughter as my wife strived to be the perfect hostess.
Amanda, barely eight months old, would be the center of attention. She was too young to know what was happening. All she knew was the more she ripped at the wrapping paper, the more she tore at the boxes, the more people smiled and laughed. After that everyone would sit down to a turkey dinner with all the fixings: mashed potato, gravy, cranberry sauce. I could already smell it cooking as my eyes shut once again pushing tears down my cheek. With those thoughts I fell back asleep.
This time when my eyes opened they were greeted by bright sunshine. The bunk beside me was empty and already neatly made. I rose to my feet and walked to the window. I could see the rugged Korean mountains just beyond the razor wire. Guards with M-16’s in hand walked their post.
Christmas. Not just any Christmas, but baby’s first Christmas and here I was, halfway around the world missing it. The sadness that started to overwhelm me was whisked away as I saw the clock. It was fast approaching noon. I threw on my clothes and dashed out of the barracks. I had told my buddy that I would meet him, along with his girlfriend, in the tiny village outside the main gate.
As I left the protection of the camp fence behind, I walked down the main street lined with shacks on both sides. The smell of stale beer and human waste that used to overwhelm me seemed almost normal. As I spied Don and SungCha up ahead, they waved.
We greeted each other and it was explained that SungCha’s neighbor had invited us over for Christmas dinner. Oh great, the last thing I wanted to do was be reminded of Christmas. I wanted to skip it this year. Pretend it didn’t happen. It hurt too much to think about what I was missing back home.
But, having nowhere else to turn I followed them up the road to a small three room “hooch” that from the outside, I knew had seen better days.
When we went inside, the foul odor of the village was lost in the sweet smell of dinner. The main room was warm and cozy with a small table only a few inches from the floor. It was filled with brightly colored dishes of hot steaming food. SungCha told us that the family just wanted to show their appreciation to some soldiers. During the introduction it was evident they spoke very little English and we spoke even less Korean.
With a nod from the father, the two small children with wide-eyed smiles came over and pulled me down to the floor. We sat cross-legged in front of the table and proceeded to eat. SungCha tried to translate but I soon discovered this wasn’t about conversation or the food. The room was filled with the warmth of Christmas.
He was about a mother eager to please with a specially prepared meal; two small children laughing and playing on the floor with a soldier who was missing home, and a father who was trying to show his gratitude for those helping to protect his family and country. It was in that moment that I knew I was there for a reason. We had come from afar offering help, offering hope to those in need.
That was one Christmas that I am glad God didn’t let me skip. My prayer this holiday season is that Christmas finds you wherever you are.
Russ Lane, Pemaquid