Chris Gift

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We have a holiday tradition, here in Emmett Wilson Book Land.

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The Festival of Lights, at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Kensington, Maryland, just a few miles north of the D.C. line.

This has been our annual family holiday ‘thing’ at the Mormon Temple, ever since my oldest daughter (now 14, in the white jacket) was a baby. It’s popular, and free to the public. I’ve only missed two years in all the time we’ve lived here. The Temple is only about two miles from our house, and you can see the spires, including the angel Moroni (the statue at the very top of one of the spires) from our house, especially now that the trees are bare. We stopped by for a visit on Monday the 19th.

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I would say that just about every tree and shrub is all tricked out for the holidays.

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If you look at the spires of the temple, that’s Moroni lit at the top of this photo.

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Intense pinks and purples. A few times, it felt like my retinas were on fire. 

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After about 20 minutes walking around the campus, I started looking for a tree or shrub with bare branches — something for retinal relief. This display made me think of a friend I used to have years ago during my drinking days as an undergrad — she was one of the ‘beautiful people’, intense, vibrant. A lot of energy in one package. Everyone was attracted to her, wanted to be around her, to gawk at her, and especially so when we would go to parties. She was a nice person, too.

But after awhile, you just wanted a break from her, because she was too much.

My friend Chris Brewer used to sit right below this green shrub every night, every year, decked out in a Santa hat with lights.

You couldn’t miss Chris — he was huge, both literally and figuratively. He sat there, on a stool greeting visitors, without fail, every day, every year. Seeing him was grounding for my kids, and for me. He was one of the reasons my kids loved to visit the Temple. He was one of my dearest friends; you know him, too. I’ve written about him before in the blog.

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The portrait of Chris at the Mormon Temple at Christmas. This portrait was displayed during Chris’ memorial service in February, 2015.

Chris was one of the first AA’s who reached out me very early in my program, when I was internally shaking, angry at the world for handing me a life sentence of having to deal with problems without anesthetizing myself anymore. Chris literally held out his hand to me in that early meeting, and in doing so, probably saved my life. Had he not done that, I’d likely have gone back out again, and never returned.

One of the reasons I hadn’t been back (my family hasn’t skipped any visits) was because Chris wasn’t there. In 2014, Chris was too sick to sit outside; he just couldn’t do it anymore. Chris died February 8, 2015. The Temple staff hasn’t replaced him as their Santa. But then, no one could replace Chris.

This year, I went to the Temple with my family. Now, you’re going to think this sounds cliche and corny as hell, but it felt like Chris was there, as we walked and looked all at the lights. I swear it did. I thought about Chris the entire time, and how much I missed him and his friendship. It was a little sad, among all the lights and festivity there, but it was also cleansing.

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On Wednesday, I was asked to lead an AA meeting at a club that was new to me. The new-to-me meeting has been going on for 40 years in the WAIA group; I’ve never been to it mostly because traffic is hell to get to it from my neck of the woods.

Like a good AA-er, I showed up about 15 minutes early for the meeting to meet the leaders and some of the members — I recognized many old and familiar and wonderful faces. But this is a HUGE meeting — about 80 people. The guy who enlisted me to speak came over and we chatted a few minutes. I said, “I’ve got the 12th Tradition all ready to go,” I said, proudly, showing him my well-marked-up  book, with reference notes, and so forth (I’m a teacher. I always over prepare. I’m proud of that).

“Er…it’s actually the 12th Step that we’re discussing today. But since you have time in the program, I’m sure you can wing it just fine. And feel free to put a few Tradition things in there, too.”

OMG.

I felt my blood pressure rising — not in anger but in anxiety. Yeah, I know the 12th step, but dammit, this alcoholic always overdoes things, even the ‘good’ things, and anything less just makes me feel less than. You know what I mean? I panicked.

So, I took my book with me outside in the crisp, cool air, to the columbarium next to the church. I had a few minutes. I opened the chapter, and read the section about our spiritual experiences, and carrying the message to those who may need it via our actions and words and deeds. I took a deep breath. I felt better.

And I looked around where I was. I read a few of the names…

…and then I saw this:

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Chris.

He was right there. All this time.

I went back inside and shared on the 12th step. And it was a great meeting.

 

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays from Emmett Wilson Book Land.

 

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