I often completely overlooked the blessings that were right there in front of me. The old saying, "take the time to smell the roses," had not been a part of my life. That had all changed, one wintery day, shortly before Christmas.
I had married the most beautiful woman in the world; at least in my estimation. She had those little dimples, and a look that could melt my heart. When she talked, I would watch her lips carefully. They would purse in the most amazing way. And they would always look so moist. I never saw her use gloss; it just seemed her mouth had its own natural shine.
She had a delicate frame and the most beautiful head of hair. It was red and it was a perfect match for her face. I would often catch myself watching her move about the house, so very thankful that I had asked her to be my wife.
She loved my sense of humor. I loved to hear her laugh. I loved to watch her laugh. Her face would take on a whole new life and tiny tears would occasionally appear in the corner of her eyes. She had an amazing laugh. It was infectious. It was not uncommon to see others smile, simply upon hearing that incredible sound.
We would take long walks on the trails near our house. We were happy just to be together. Bike rides were common, as well as kayak tips on the river. I would sometimes go shopping with her, despite the fact that I hated the activity. I think I would rather poke my finger in my eye, but being near her was worth it all. And when she would find something she liked, her face would light up, and I would smile inside.
One day I came home to see her with a very strange look in her eye. She approached me with a glass of wine and smiled. "I think you need to relax in your chair. I have something to tell you."
After I was seated, and had taken a sip, she continued. Her voice became soft, but I could see a twinkle in her eye. "We are going to have a baby," she said. I saw her eyes become moist. I almost spilled my drink. A hundred thoughts rushed through my mind. After, the initial shock, I rushed to her knees and knelt before her.
"Are you sure," I asked. "How do you know?"
She smiled, "I went to the doctor today. I hadn't been feeling right and I just wanted to get checked out. After some tests, he informed me that I was pregnant. I wanted to call you right away, but I also wanted to see the expression on your face."
I held her head in my hands and kissed it gently. It felt like I would burst inside. We were not yet at the financial state that I would have wanted to be, but we could make it work. Our dream was coming closer to fruition; we were going to have a family.
About a month later, I was surprised once again. "We are going to have twins," my wife informed me. That statement really got my mind to kick into high gear. I thought of all the ramifications of having two kids to care for, but in the end, I was thankful.
Of course we immediately set about preparing the kids room. We waited to paint the walls until the babies were born. There was no way that we were going to find out the sex, despite the promptings of many of our friends. We wanted to experience the excitement that had been a part of childbirth down through the ages. We wanted to greet them and be introduced when they entered our world.
The day finally came when the babies were born. It was just before Christmas and I had not even purchased a tree. The labor was fairly quick and we both surprised to find that we were the proud parents of a boy and a girl. I don't remember much about that day, but I do know that it was one of the happiest of my life.
When we finally arrived home from the hospital, we both paused and looked at each other. The responsibility of needing to care for the needs of two precious, new lives seemed overwhelming. I'm sure we felt what every new parent has felt, that feeling of insufficiency and worry.
Once I looked at my wife, my sprit was renewed and I knew everything would work out just fine. My wonderful mate was glowing from ear to ear as she held our kids, nursing them in the warmth of our very own home.
That was one of the best Christmas's that I can remember. I did get a tree, although it was a bit crooked. And we did decorate it together, despite the cries, upchucks, and diapers. Sitting on the couch, holding our babies, and watching the twinkle of the lights, was indeed a night of most silent joy.
Days turned into months and months into years. Our kids grew and I became so involved in events that I rarely paused to see the smallest of things around me. Work, help with homework, and sports occupied much of our time. Church, and family events, seemed to take up what was left. Occasionally, I would pause a moment to appreciate what I had, but those times seemed to become fewer and fewer.
One day that all changed. My son approached me to ask if he could use the car. I was hesitant, because of the snow and ice outside, but he was insistent. He and his sister wanted to go out shopping for Christmas presents. After a stern warning to be careful, I sent them on their way.
Several hours later, we received a call. There had been an accident, and we needed to come quickly. We rushed to the hospital, only for me to watch our daughter pass in her mother's arms. Our son had died at the scene.
We were told there had been a stretch of ice on the road. It appeared that my son had decreased his speed, but the oncoming car had spun out of control. It would not have been that serious, except for the fact that the other driver was drunk and traveling too fast. The front of my car was virtually demolished.
Our world came crashing down. The funeral was just before Christmas. I was numb. My wife fell into a deep depression that I thought she would never recover from. She never said it, but I think she blamed me for giving my son permission to use the car.
I gained weight, while she became skinnier. I never heard that laughter again. Our whole existence became one of merely trying to make it to the next day. Many times, I did not even want to do that.
I continued to work hard and even managed to be promoted. It seemed that pouring my time into my work was the only way to forget all my pain. We moved into a bigger house, and bought a nicer car, but at the end of the day, the sadness remained.
I'd lost all enthusiasm for things that I had used to cherish. The bird feeders went empty. The flowers wilted and died. I only did the maintenance around the yard that was required. When a beautiful bird would fly by, I didn't even pause to notice.
I knew I was in a bad way when my divorced neighbor asked if I could stop over and check out her chimney. She told my wife that the smoke was backing up into the room when she attempted to light the fireplace. I headed over to check it out when I arrived home from work.
When I knocked on the door, I heard her call out, "Just a moment." It wasn't long before I saw the knob move and the door opened. She smiled and said, "I just got out of the shower. Won't you come in?"
She was wearing a short, white robe. It was open, just enough at the top, that I saw more than I should have. I quickly glanced away and asked her what the problem was. The old me would have taken a second look, but the numbness that had become part of my life, precluded me from any thoughts of curiosity.
She sat on the couch while I checked out the chimney. I noticed that her robe had hiked up and there was a good portion of her upper thigh that was visible. Once again, I looked away and continued with the task at hand. In the past, I had always been faithful to my wife, but I had always thought that a second look was warranted, when the opportunity presented itself.
I quickly discovered the blockage. When I stuck a rod up the chimney and poked around, a charred bird eventually fell to the floor of the fireplace.
"Here is your problem I said. If you could get me a bag, I'll get this out of your house and you can enjoy your fire."
She returned with the bag and coyly asked, "Is there anything that I can do for you?"
"I'm fine," I replied. Normally I might have flirted a little, but my mind and body were both void of any desire.
So there I stood, my hands stained with soot, a dead creature in a bag, and a sight before me that most men could only dream of.
I said goodbye, dropped the bag off in the trash, and then paused to look up at the evening sky. Whereas, in days past, I would have studied the heavens for stars, or the emerging moon; my mind drifted back to a time when I would hear the sound of singing coming from the kitchen window as my wife made Christmas cookies with the kids.
If only I could get those days back. I would know how precious it would be to stay outside the window and listen, or I would hurry to the kitchen to join in the fun. I would definitely cherish the moment, something which I wished I had done before.
My wife didn't even ask what the problem was when I got home. She definitely was not wearing anything that would entice me to take her into my arms. She had long ago stopped wearing provocative things around the house. It wouldn't have done any good if she had.
A year went by. The anniversary of the accident came up. It was a very sad day. I took down the meager decorations, the day after Christmas. It gave me something to do and I needed to clear away any memories of the past.
New Year's Day came and went. Before we knew it, it was President's Day. My friends wanted me to go winter camping, but I was not in the mood. The winter was long and snowy that year. Everyone was complaining, but I didn't care.
Life had become routine around our house. I had started sleeping in the spare bedroom because my wife would stay up so late. She hated the nights and the memories that often would come alive. She would think of the bedtimes, when she had read stories to the twins. She recalled how she had tucked them into their beds and given them a kiss. There were no kisses now. I think I fell asleep, mainly because I worked so hard during the day.
Spring came and I poured my extra time into keeping the grass free of weeds and the hedges trimmed. I didn't bother to plant any flowers. A few neighbors commented that the yard looked a little bare. I just replied that I had been busy at work.
Summer came, and I didn't bother to go fishing. My bike gathered dust in the garage, and my kayak never moved from the shelf. The excitement of new adventures seemed to have been sucked right out of my life. The memories, of the fun we had experienced as a family, would flood back when I stopped to run my hand along the side of the boat, or when I paused to wipe some dust from the bikes.
As I touched my cheek, to brush away a small bug, I felt the scar that had been formed a few years ago. I recalled the time when I had gone on a mountain bike ride with my son. We had come to the top of a steep hill that was named "Suicide Hill" on the trail map.
"There is no way I'm going down that," I had exclaimed to my son.
"I think I'll try it," he had called back.
Before I could dismount from the bike, I felt myself moving forward. The bike began to hurtle down the hill and I found I was unable to control it. I felt my head hit a tree and my body ended up with my legs somehow woven into the frame.
"Dad, dad, are you ok?" my son had called out. I could hear the worry in his voice.
I didn't move. I didn't answer. I paused to take stock of the damage that had been done. After the bike was removed, I discovered that I had a few aches, my face was bleeding, and my ankle was twisted. But all in all, I had been very fortunate. My helmet had indeed prevented a serious head trauma. My bike was beyond emergency repair.
AS I limped back to our campsite, we had laughed about the experience. My son had commented about my daring at such a mature age. I told him "that you only live once." We later discovered that the wheel had come loose, causing the brakes to fail. The fact that the bike was faced downhill had been responsible for the forward motion.
The sound of a loud, passing truck caused me to snap back to reality. Fall came and the leaves fell, once again. I marveled at how things seemed to go on without a hitch. Didn't it know that my life had been ruined? Didn't the world know that precious young lives had been snuffed out in the blink of an eye?
Thanksgiving came, but we stayed home. The next day, it had begun to snow. A blanket of the white stuff gradually covered the ground. I put on my winter gear and went outside to shovel. As I was rounding the corner of the house, I noticed a young girl sitting on an old wooden sled. She was parked where the sidewalk would probably be. I heard her mumble something and moved a little closer so that I could hear what she was saying.
"Shucks," she sighed. "Now what am I going to do."
My first impulse was to go and do the back walk, hoping that the girl would be gone when I returned. I had avoided children as much as I could over the last several years, and I surely didn't want to change that practice.
Something prompted me to move forward. It was almost like a hand was pushing me along. I looked down at my legs, and saw that they were moving. I had no idea what I was going to say.
The girl turned her head at the sound of the crunching snow.
"Hello," she said. "Could you help me. My sled is broken."
I looked down the trail that she had made. I could see that the sled had been moving sideways. I also noticed a little basket by her side.
I spotted what looked to be cookies inside. They were held in small plastic bags which were tied with thin, red ribbons.
"I'm selling Christmas cookies," the young girl said, upon noticing that I was looking at her basket.
"We don't have much money and my mom is sick. I baked the cookies myself. I hope to earn enough money so that I can buy her a Christmas present. If I sell enough, I might even buy a ham."
Something happened deep inside of me. I couldn't tell you what it was, but it seemed like my heart skipped a beat. I felt a catch in my throat, and a tear began to run down my cheek.
I looked carefully at the little girl. She appeared to be somewhere around the age of ten. She was beautiful, her bright blue eyes shown brilliantly beneath her tattered wool hat. Her cheeks were rosy from the cold.
"Can you help me," she asked again.
"I'll be right back," I somehow managed to say. "I need to get a wrench".
It didn't take long for me to return with a wrench, my can of bolts, and a few other tools. While the young girl watched, I located a bolt that would work and repaired the sled. I also put a lock washer on it to keep the nut from loosening up again. After checking everything over, I told her she was good to go.
"Thank you very much sir," she said, "you are very kind."
I felt a twinge inside. I wanted to touch her face, or hold her hand. I wanted to connect with this wonderful creature, but I knew the rules. I was a stranger, and an older man. I kept my distance, as was the proper thing to do.
A brief terror crossed my mind. Would I ever have a grandchild like this young girl? Was I destined to live a life without the sound of laughter and the antics of young children?
"What's the matter sir?" she implored.
She must have noticed the change in the look on my face.
"Oh nothing," I muttered. And yet it was something, and it was very frightening to me.
"Would you like a bag of cookies?" she asked in such a sweet voice.
"I'll buy them all," I replied, as I reached for my wallet.
"Oh no, sir, there are many other people around here who need them too."
How I wished she would stop calling me "sir". Tom would be so much better. Dad or grandpa would have been music to my ears.
"Ok, I'll buy two bags," I answered.
"One bag is free," she replied. "That will be three dollars."
I fished the money out of my wallet, as I once again studied the precious being in front of me.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"It's Mary," she answered back.
"My name is Tom," I responded.
"I must be on my way," she said. "I need to get home soon. My mother will be worried about me."
I watched as she pulled her sled down the walk. I had just experienced an encounter that was very precious to me. I knew I would probably never see her again. Oh, if only she could somehow become a part of my life.
A very small part of the shell, that surrounded me, was beginning to crack.
"What have you been doing?" my wife asked as I entered the kitchen?"
"I just helped a young girl with her sled," I responded. "I also bought some cookies.
"You can leave them on the counter," my wife replied.
I wanted to tell her more, but I knew it would be of no use. She had not been a part of my experience. I somehow knew that she would not be able to relate.
I walked away and grabbed one of the cookies. It was actually very good.