I shifted my arms to keep an armful of packages from spilling all over the ground.
Another year. Another Christmas.
And a sufficiently smaller bank account to show for it. Also a New Years resolution to never again to wait until Christmas Eve to finish my shopping.
The bus doors opened in front of me and I stepped inside, desperately searching for an empty spot to set my gifts down.
The only empty spot was next to a woman with matted hair and downcast eyes. Though it couldn't have been any warmer than 40 degrees outsides, she wore only jeans and a t-shirt.
My heart softened. I always tried to help the homeless when I could. Setting my packages down, I pulled off my own coat. I had a thick layer underneath, but still the stale, cold, air in the bus caused me to shiver.
"Excuse me, Ma'am?" I tapped her on the shoulder.
She looked up, her eyes red and puffy.
I held the coat out. "You look like you need this more than me."
No smile. No 'thank you'. Instead she looked at me blankly for a moment, then turned away.
Annoyed, I tried again. "It's really cold outside, please take it."
She shook her head.
Not the reaction had expected, I turned away and checked my phone. I need to get home and put the turkey in the oven.
A sniffle caused me to face the woman once again. Her shoulders were shaking slightly.
I picked my packages up and sat down next to her. "Are you alright?"
She glanced at me briefly, fresh tears falling down her cheeks. Still, no words.
"Do you have anywhere to go for Christmas?"
"Not anywhere I want to go." Her words were mumbled, barely audible.
I pictured a homeless shelter, filled with filth. I wouldn't want to go their either.
"Anything I can do to help? I have extra food..."
"Not unless you have a stairway to Heaven."
I blinked. "I don't understand."
Another sob. "I don't want to go home. Not when he's not there anymore."
Reality began to sink in. She wasn't homeless. She was grieving.
I remained silent, hoping she would continue.
"Why didn't God take me instead? Why would someone so young be taken away?"
"I'm so sorry." I didn't know what else to say.
"He was my son. My son."
"Can I ask...what happened?"
She was silent for a moment and I thought she wasn't going to answer. But she took a deep breath and said, "stage four cancer. We only found out a week before he died."
I swallowed. "I'm so sorry," I repeated.
"How could we not know until a week before? How did I miss the signs? He's gone now. Just like that. One day I'm kissing my beautiful boy on the forehead and the next I'm planning his funeral. I can't go home. Everything there reminds me of him. His sweet laugh. His blue eyes."
I felt tears well up in my own eyes. She kept going, spilling out her heart.
"There's no way I can live with this pain. I just want to be with him. I want to be in Heaven. I want to hug him. I want to tell him I love him. I just-" she choked back more tears, trying to get her words out. "I just want him to be alive."
The bus stopped and the woman got up.
"I'm so so sorry for you loss." The tears in my own eyes flowed freely now. "I can't imagine the pain, but I will pray for you."
She let her eyes lock with mine for a moment, a silent 'thank you', then stepped off the bus and melted into the Christmas Eve crowds.
Minutes later the bus stopped once again and I got off. It wasn't until I had walked the mile from the bus stop to my house that realized I had left my coat on the bus and cold rain was pelting down on my neck. But still I felt numb to the cold.
Seeing a pain so real and deep, tugged at my heart and kept my own tears falling. If just seeing her pain caused this own pain in my heart, how much more was she hurting?
I stepped into the house and a blast of warmth hit my face. Warmth and thankfulness.
For this Christmas I had my family. Such a precious gift that so easily I took for granted.
Another year. Another Christmas.
Another moment to be thankful for the ones I hold dear.
Praying for all those who are celebrating Christmas with an empty spot at the table this year. <3
The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.
May the name of the Lord be praised.