There is something completely magical about the holidays. No matter what you celebrate; Hanukkah, Christmas, Hallmark Christmas, or Kwanza there's no denying that something in the air is different. Maybe it is the pretty lights (which I firmly believe should be left up year round), maybe it is the crispness in the air (even here in supposedly sunny SoCal), or maybe it is the unique cinnamon and pine smell of this time of year.
Holiday magic can be found anywhere, even in the most unlikely of places, such as a hospital. The Hanukkah/Christmas/New Year's I spent in the hospital back in the Pittsburgh six years ago is still regarded as the best holiday ever. I was across the country and away from family, but in the fellow patients and nurses, I found a second family.
My roommate and I decorated the dimly lit, cramped hospital room to make it feel more cozy and bring cheeriness. It was snowing outside, so a key part of our decorating was cozy blankets and stuffed animals. I remember that Christmas morning like it was yesterday. It was snowing outside and there were twinkly lights shining from the building across our window. We were woken up early by Child Life bringing boxes over flowing with donated gifts. Being the token Jew in the hospital I had no expectations to be included in the Christmas festivities, but everyone made me feel so loved and welcomed. Seeing that box of completely personalized presents (even thinking about it now) made me tear up. The pure thoughtfulness and generosity was overwhelming. After sitting in shock for a while, my roommate and I dove in to the boxes alternating opening presents. Later we went out and joined in the festivities with the rest of the patients.
Being in a hospital over the holidays would seem depressing, but the scene I was greeted by stepping out into the main hall was anything but. Patients at this hospital came from all different backgrounds, I remember one four year old who had come from all of the way from Qatar for treatment, but the uniqueness of our situations and the holiday spirit was unifying. I remember one sixteen or seventeen year old boy who had been in a horrible car accident and was now severely impacted both physically and cognitively. He did not speak, and could not, but was the happiest person I have ever known with an infectious smile. Christmas morning he got a nerf gun as a present. He used his hands (with help from fellow patients, such as myself, and nurses) for the first time in months to get into a nerf gun war with the physical therapists. He laughed so hard that morning and it was the first time he had done so, he even managed small, but clear "yes's" and "no's". If that is not a Christmas Miracle, I don't know what is.
We spent New Year's Eve crowded on my very ill roommate's bed. When the ball dropped we cheered so loudly I wouldn't be surprised if the neighborhood surrounding the hospital heard us. For the first time, I understood the importance of ringing in the new year. It is a reminder of hope, possibility, and time marching on despite leaving soldiers behind.
I found a sister in my roommate and this will be my first holiday since losing her. "Some people have such a strong spirit inside of them that they give you the fire you need to keep pushing in times when you think you can't move an inch," she wrote in a blog post about the holiday we spent together. Well, Milly, you are one of those people. I am forever grateful for the lessons you have taught me, the memories we share, and most of all, for the fire you ignited in me. I love you to the moon and back, over and over.
My hope is for everyone to experience pure holiday magic, like I did in that hospital, at least once. Maybe this will be the year for you?