Christmas orphans and existential questions

Cindy ArpFeature

Every other year Dan and I are Christmas orphans. With sons who live over 2,400 miles away, and who each have another set of parents to please, every other year we don’t see our children during the holidays.

When it’s an Orphans Christmas year, Dan and I will go to a Christmas program, have a Christmas party, or spend the holiday with other Christmas Orphans. However, this year I was still recuperating from a dreadful upper respiratory infection which cancelled out any programs or throwing a party, and, as luck would have it, the dear friends with whom we have spent many holidays, were out of town. Things were looking rather grim.

When things look grim, disturbing existential thoughts can pop into one’s head. What is my purpose in life, really. Am I making a difference? Truly, what is the world coming to? We were trying hard not to brood, but a silent Christmas Eve dread was creeping around our house.

On December 22, our friend Phil Guthe called, saying his son Neal wanted us to come to his house for his yearly family and friends Christmas Eve party. Did we want to come? Why yes, we most certainly did.

The night of the party we were met in the driveway by Neal’s 7- and 9-year-old children, both whizzing about expertly on their electric powered skateboards. Watching them play, dressed in the Christmas finery of their choice and full of anticipation, we smiled at each other and entered a house full of conversation, good food and drink. Children! Conversation! Festive treats! Things were definitely on the upswing.

Later in the season we watched the TV Christmas special on “Call the Midwife.” Series regulars include a married couple who have adopted a Down Syndrome teenage boy named Reggie. The program progressed as the cast attempted to re-create a Christmas tableau that had been described to them by a depressed elderly nun as one of her most fond memories of Christmas. Everyone was rushing about procuring costumes and animals, while Reggie kept insisting he wanted to depict an angel instead of a shepherd, a request repeatedly denied.

At the very end of the show the director of the tableau found the picture upon which the nun’s memories were based, a 1551 Flemish painting titled “The Adoration of the Christ Child,” artist unknown. The painting depicts a Down syndrome angel (just right of Mary). The closing scene was the cast in their costumes, tableau complete, Reggie an angel. It was an amazing, unexpected ending to the show, an ending that brought to me the thought that of course some angels are Down angels – angels eternally full of the joy of life, angels who do not worry, angels who can lift us up and remind us of who we are, why we are and where we should go, while our unexpected Christmas Eve party reminded us of the joy one finds in young children.

Our Orphans Christmas answered some of our existential questions: What is my purpose in life? Partially to appreciate and enjoy the community of mankind. Am I making a difference? Every time I recognize and spread the joys around me. What is the world coming to? No one knows, but there are angels about, possibly disguised, but about. The echoes of our Christmas are still in my head. The joys of children are lingering in my thoughts, and I hope my personal Down angel is sitting on my shoulder. Orphans Christmas – a revelation, a joy.

Cindy Arp, teacher/librarian, retired from Knox County Schools. She and husband Dan live in Heiskell.


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