Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Muse: Because of Hot Chocolate

Claudette is the most pleasant neighbor. She lives downstairs from us, and I always enjoy running into her in the mornings outside of the building. She is an energetic and sassy woman from Jamaica with a heart of gold and a warm smile. Her son works for the President in Washington DC, so she is often down visiting him returning with entertaining stories of meeting the President complete with pictures and laughter. She walks several miles a day in the park, loves Mitt Romney and knows everyone on the block. Anyone who knows her would say she is a cheerful woman with a love of life. But even those who appear to be on top of the world need a little hot chocolate.

I told Claudette excitedly about our Christmas tree and we brainstormed all the fun ways we could decorate our building with wreaths and other fun Christmas items. I asked her if she would like the bottom boughs of the tree to decorate with and she politely declined. I invited her to our Christmas party, and she happily said she would attend only to tell me that this party was for young people. To which I chuckled and said, "But you are young." Our house is filled with the Christmas spirit since the tree has gone up and is lit whenever we are at home. Yuletide tunes are often playing from the computer, and I have been doing something related to Christmas almost every night - wrapping presents, preparing for the party, watching A Christmas Carol and baking goodies. I suppose I thought it inevitable that the Christmas Spirit would permeate the entire building.

Last Saturday, the ladies in the ward got together to do some holiday crafts. I put together some homemade hot chocolate, magnets and even attempted to paint some clear glass balls... they are laughable at best. I brought my goods home thinking briefly on what I might do with them and instantly thought I should give the hot chocolate to Claudette. I wondered if she even liked hot chocolate because she seemed more like a coffee/tea person than a hot chocolate person, but I figured everyone likes at least one cup of hot chocolate during Christmas. I went downstairs excited to give her this gift only to discover that she was not there. I took the hot chocolate back upstairs and set it on the mantel where it sat untouched for a couple of days. Finally, on Tuesday night, a friend was coming over to help me with the last of the chocolate covered pretzels, so while I was waiting I decided it was a good time to try Claudette's again. This time she was home. I honestly didn't think my gift was much, but I like her and giving her things is fun. She was delighted at the gift and told me she had gone to the store a couple of days before to buy some hot chocolate to satisfy an unusual craving only to be disappointed by Swiss Miss. She is a coffee/tea person. She was so pleased, and I was glad that I could give the hot chocolate to someone who appreciated it. Little did I know then how great a gift that hot chocolate was.

I came home Wednesday night to find an envelope with my name on it from Claudette. She is often leaving us notes in our mailbox, which is always a welcome sight. But this note was different. One night a month or so ago, I spent an hour or more at Claudette's listening to her tell me about her husband. She had told me about him on a couple of occasions - rarely does a conversation go by that she doesn't talk about him - but I didn't want to pry. I knew he had died a few years ago and that he had been a wonderful man who loved his family and Jamaica. But this night, Claudette told me all about their life here and in Jamaica and about the last months that he was alive. He died of cancer within 3 months of the diagnosis 7 years ago on Dec. 30. She told me about the night he died, and the many tiny miracles that occurred. She may not be an outwardly religious woman, and she may not attend church but she does believe in God and miracles. She loved her husband dearly. They were the best of friends, and so the Christmas season is especially hard for her. She tried to put up her tree last year having difficulty with the lights and vowed that was it. Many times she had placed the tree in a bag to be thrown away only to find it still in her home. So this year, there would be no tree with the excuse that she would be in DC for the holidays and it made no sense to put it up. She assumed this Christmas would be like the past 6, feeling sad and melancholy being reminded of her husband and his last days. And then there was hot chocolate.

There was something about the hot chocolate that spoke to her. I didn't know it, but I was becoming an instrument to save Christmas for Claudette. She left me a note explaining how she felt Christmas in her heart again and for the first time in 7 years she didn't feel melancholy but rather cheerful and ready to embrace the season. She even put up her Christmas tree and was so excited about it she waited for us Thursday morning as we were leaving for work to show us. She had a sparkle in her eye, and the tree was beautiful sitting in the window. Claudette says she will never use that homemade hot chocolate but keep it as a reminder of this Christmas and how the Spirit of Christmas is once again alive in her heart. Her son noticed a difference in her. I noticed a difference in her. And now I notice a difference in myself.

Christmas is a magical time of year for many reasons, but I am just now beginning to understand what the Spirit of Christmas really means. Christ has always been the reason for the season, but He sometimes gets crowded out by the commercialism of the holiday. It's not His way to compete with Santa Claus, malls, mounds of presents, Christmas parties and the like. But His birth remains as it always has - a quiet, sacred event witnessed only by the few who believed and were lucky enough to be there. He is a symbol of peace and salvation and that is what the Christmas Spirit is all about. We often feel we are doing our part for humanity by giving to the poor and outwardly needy. They are often easy to recognize and we fill vindicated offering them a few dollars or a sandwich. Everyone has needs, not just the homeless and hungry. How much more joy do we feel when we truly fill someone's need when we do not even know that we are doing it rather we are just being ourselves and loving our neighbor? I did not save Christmas for Claudette. I was just in the right place at the right time. The Savior saved Christmas for Claudette - through a jar of hot chocolate - and taught me the true meaning of Christmas.


Beth&Cody said...

Beautiful story. I had a hard time reading through my tears. We never know when a simple act or jar will mean more than we know. I'm glad you were able to find out how a simple act of kindness can be multiplied by the Lord. Thank you for sharing.

Rachel McEwen said...


That was a very touching story, that belongs in Chicken Soup for the Soul or something like that. I want to meet this Claudette, she sounds so intriguing. We will definately see each other over the holiday...make sure you call!!!

The Ririe's said...

I love the spirit of Christmas and to hear stories from people that I know and not just a from a story book. It proves that miracles really do happen, big or small.