Over on Peoria Avenue, just a mile or so from my home, stands a hospice facility. I am one of 10,000 who pass that hospice every day. Most pay no attention as they drive past...they are off to their busy day of work or to the grocery, or to run an errand.
Folks my age notice the place, mainly because we are of an age that strikes a trace of dread.... that we'll end up there soon. I admit to an effort to avoid noticing the sparsity of cars in the parking lot...the prospect of death being such a "downer" to one's day.
There must be a hundred parking spaces in that hospice parking lot. On most occasions there are no more than half a dozen cars there...until this past week. Business has picked up this week.....dozens of cars filing in and out, their passengers ferrying bright red poinsettias or gaily wrapped gifts...to loved ones preparing for their final journey.
I imagine the loved ones, who've hurried and scurried, balancing work and family concerns, and shopping treks through a crowded Macy's, a raucous Target, a hurried run to the grocery, now taking the time to visit their loved ones lying in a bed in that hospice, their spiritual suitcase already packed for the afterlife.
And maybe the very nature of the tumultuous Christmas season brings brings the young ones here, to this place where the material world is no longer considered relevant, to a place where the dying are toting up the sums of their lives, to see if the good and the bad things they've done will somehow balance out and send them in the afterlife to a better place.
As I drive by, I slow down just a tad, wondering what's in those brightly adorned packages being carried to their dying loved ones. What does one offer someone who has a month or two to live? Certainly not a 2016 Puppy Calendar! Nor a gift card to Nordstroms, nor airplane tickets, nor a Disney World pass for the 4th of July. I'd like to think the gift is an elegantly simple family album of photos...of treasured family memories...an expression of thanks for what the "soon departing" contributed to their lives.
And I also wonder what brings on this foment of more frequent visits to this hospice. I suspect these visits bring as much comfort to the visitor as it does to the visited. Perhaps these young and healthy ones need a break from "Door Busters" and "50% Off" and the hustle and bustle of Christmas commercialism. Perhaps it helps them to realize that the "spiritual" trumps "materialism" in the grand scheme of things.
Or maybe they come, and sit beside the sick bed, and close their eyes, and reflect on the Christmas of their childhood; of Radio Flyers and doll houses and Sears Roebuck catalogues, and hard Christmas candy....of aluminum Christmas trees and Woolworth lunch counters and Lionel train sets.
And in those moments of quiet reflection, maybe the modern world fades away and they journey back to the more simple and peaceful Christmases of long ago, before the hustle and bustle of the modern world swept them into the maelstrom of smart phones and computer chips, to a world where they didn't need a GPS unit to tell them where they were going.
Perhaps they are seeking, in these bedside solitudes, the peace and tranquility of ancient shepherds who regarded an evening star that would lead them to a place of tranquility and joy...to a place where cattle lowed and a babe lay in a manger.....a journey to Bethlehem.