The Secret of the Christmas Tree
“MOM WHAT DO YOU think you are doing with that Christmas tree?” inquired Helen. “Helen, please just let me do this”, her mother answered. Eyes begging for some understanding and sympathy. You look so pathetic, Mom when you beg. How can you even think of putting up another Christmas tree, Mom? Have you forgotten so easily about Cassie and Dad? Leave that tree alone, Mom.”
“Why, Helen?” asked her mother turning around to face her daughter with her hands on her hips, and staring at her in frustration. “What’s wrong with putting a small Christmas to brighten up our miserable life and empty home? Do you want us to be the only ones in the neighborhood without a Christmas tree? We could be the laughing stock of the neighborhood! You may not care for you pride and dignity, but I do!”
“Mom”, said Helen coming down the stairs two at a time. If you don’t remember it was about a year ago that the car accident happened. Dad and Cassie were trying to get home to us, because they just had to find the right Christmas tree. Remember?” asked Helen glaring down at her mother. “Yes, I remember, Helen. I could never forget the face of my own dead daughter. Only God knows how much I miss them, said Helen’s mother tears streaming down her face which was free of make up. "Leave God out of this, Mom. He does not exist. If he is such a god of mercy and compassion, why would he allow an eighteen year old to die less than a year before her graduation? She was called to go to Yale!” Her mother stepped away as if she had been slapped.
“What about Jeremiah 29:11, Helen?” It says for I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord; plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and
a future?” You know you make me sick with your Christianity, Mom.” She threw her hands over her head in frustration. The silence that passed between was unbearable. Finally, not able to take it any longer, Helen’s mother lifted her brown soft eyes to her daughter hopping that she had won the battle. The glare and contempt in her daughter’s eyes almost made her shrink away like a dog that knows that its master is going to whack it any moment. “What plans, what futures, Mom? The plans we had made existed a future with Dad and Cassie until that drunk driver snatched away their lives without a second thought.
“We are black women, Mom.
What do you think they do to black women in a twenty first century United States of America? In Nashville, Tennessee?” asked Helen staring at her mother with the eyes of a hawk. They don’t give a darn what happens to us, Mom. When dad worked as an officer in the Navy, they treated us like heroes. Now that he is gone, what is gonna happen to us?”
“We still have enough money in the bank. Enough to finish your two years of college and still some plenty left. My precious, Helen you have so much potential just look at you. You could be anything you want. I never went to college, but look at you, you graduated with valedictorian in your high school and went to one of the best universities in the world.”
You were dated by the Wildcats own captain of the football team. You were the cheerleader’s captain and all the guys wanted to date you. Even white guys were chasing at your heels. “Yes, Mom, all those things are true or were true then, but so were they true with Cassie. She was the queen of her class. The smartest”. As soon as she had it,
Helen wished she could take it back, but she couldn’t and she hated herself when she saw the hurt look on her mother’s face. On second thought she said, “I hate all white people. They did this to us, Mom! I would like to murder him. To see him feel the pain he bestowed upon us.” “I am going to my room to take a nap and drive this nightmare out of my head”, said her mother. “On second thought, Helen, you don’t even know half of the story on what happened on that accident scene.”
Helen stepped a side to allow her mother to pass, still pondering her mother’s last statement. She walked up to the Christmas tree and started inspecting it. This is not the Christmas Mom bought at Wal- Mart. It looks very different. Where did you come from, Christmas tree? She scrutinized the tree again and was about to pick a sliver bell ornament when she realized that she no longer liked what the Christmas tree represented. She dropped it gently back into the box with the other ornaments, and shrugged her elegant shoulders. Helen walked into the TV room. She flipped on the remote control and stared at the screen for a few minutes before she changed the channel. Discontent. I hate God. How could a loving God do this to me? How many times had I shown him that loved I loved him by remaining pure even when all men wanted me?) She wrapped a cozy blanket around her super model’s body and shuddered in hatred.
God, the omnipresent was not present in her dark heart nor was he present when her sister and father needed him at their final hour. Good. I can think evil thoughts and not feel the least of guilt or remorset. My precious daughter, turn to me before it is too late. Before all your hatred eats you all up and takes control of your life. Helen sat up and looked around the room. God had just spoken to her and she knew it. She was evil, a holy God did not converse with evil people who had
evil intentions and motives. He has not spoken to me since my father and sister died at the accident. Why would he speak to me now? She shrugged her shoulders and changed the channel. There were a lot of advertisements on TV for finding the right Christmas tree, the perfect gift and the entire mambo jumbo that came with the holiday. She despised Christmas. How can anybody be so happy while some are grieving for their sister and father? Life is so unfair. She continued to flip through the channels hoping that they might show something that had nothing to do with the holiday. They didn’t. Disgusted with the whole thing, she got up and put the movie, Bride and Prejudice.
She hated Pride and Prejudice. Look at me. I am twenty two years old and I am watching a kid’s movie. She recalled the last time she had seen the movie. Her sister had and she had been trying to dance like Laita and her friends. They had laughed so hard that they were breathless. Her father was home then from the Navy and he just stood there looking at his two daughters in awe. ‘Where did you ladies learn to dance like this?’ he had asked them in his flowing African American accent.
Their mother winked at them and answered, ‘it’s in their blood, honey’. It was true; dancing was an instinct they were born with. To them it was like learning to walk or breathe. Her dad tried to pull a move, like the beautiful ladies. Instead he had looked like a one legged goat. His dance move was very unprofessional. Mother and daughters looked at each other and howled in laughter until their sides ached. ‘Dad, please don’t ever try to do that again. It’s most disturbing’. Cassie had said as she pulled her dad back to his seat, breathless from having laughed so hard. You ladies are light skinned than most blacks. You could have auditioned for this movie and done a better job than them, he had said pointing at the beautiful Indian actresses.
She found herself wailing inside her blanket. The movie was turned off or muted, she didn’t know which. After an hour of her distress, Helen finally had the nerve to get up and wash her puffy eyes in the bathroom. She climbed upstairs to her room. Her parents’ bedroom was at the end of the house her sister’s was in the middle and her bedroom near her sister’s room. They all had a bathroom in their rooms. She thought that that in the neighborhood, they had the best house, and it was probably true.
As she came up the stairs she saw her sister’s bedroom door shut. She quickly went insider her sister’s room and shut the door. She let a low sigh and strode across the room. Everything was in order. Cassie hated disorder.
The comfortable king size bed was made to look like a suite. Even her dirty laundry had been folded before the day she died. I love you Cassie girl. I promise that I will avenge your blood. I promise. So God help me. She chastised herself. There’s no god.
Her eyes followed the pictures in her sister’s bedroom. There was Cassie on her prom looking like a star. She gazed into the eyes of her date. He seemed to whispering something into her ears. The camera had caught Cassie with her head tilted to the right PG. 6
as she brought down stars in the sky with her beauty. Such a waste, but he will pay. Then there were other pictures of Cassie with her friends having the time of their lives as they practiced their cheer leading stunts.
Another picture that Helen could never forget was young Cassie wiping the tears of a white little boy. She smiled gently in the camera. But she seemed to have her eyes
focused on Helen as if saying love them Helen for me at least because I won’t be able to anymore.
Helen went up to the picture and laid it on its face. The picture made her feel guilty and incapable of love or loving. For the first time since she entered her sister’s bedroom, she noticed that her mother was talking on the phone in her bedroom. She walked to the wall that adjoined both bedrooms and tried to eavesdrop. Something she had never tried to do in all her adult life.
She realized that she couldn’t hear the muffled voice of her mother. She quickly shut her sister’s door and slowly like a thief trying not to get caught; walked to her mother’s door and listened. “Did you tell her about the tree, Mary?” “I couldn’t, John. Trust me I have tried to reach her in all my means. But she is distant from me and her Father. She hates Him. How is it possible that one like her could be filled with so much love than hate, John?” She used to love God so much. It breaks my heart to see her hate Him so.” Her mother paused. “Yes, John, I will pray like I have never prayed before.” Pause. "I will tell her about the tree, if you insist, John. Pause. “Yes, I know what this means to you, John. Pause. She’s watching TV downstairs”. After hearing her mother say “she’s watching TV downstairs” Helen moved as silently as possible down and took her position as if she had never left it.
Ten minutes later, she heard her mother coming down and looked up to see her mother crying. “Come here Helen. There are some things you need to know about the deaths of your sister and father.” She led her to the sitting room where the Christmas tree sat alone looking very lonely and undecorated.
"You see the tree Helen is a miracle tree. The day of the accident you were still at college before you were called home. I on the other side was at the accident scene. I saw something that today is still unexplainable to the FBI agents and the police. Your sister and father were smashed to unidentifiable pieces. The eighteen wheeler did this. The car itself could not be even recognized, but on top of all that mess and wreck stood a Christmas tree glowing for the entire world to see.
Mark you that that Christmas tree should have not have been glowing in the first place. It was not plugged at all for goodness sake! In fact, it should have been in a million pieces. Yet it glowed. It was lying down on its side and we assumed that your dad had tied it with a rope in the trunk. They could not even find the ropes that had held it. This is the part I don’t understand. It was decorated and not even one of the ornaments was broken. None, Helen. The police working at the accident scene called Wal- Mart to ask them whether or not that Christmas tree had been decorated. They said that your dad and Cassie spent an hour and half putting the ornaments on the tree. They were crying and none of the workers understood. The police and the FBI were too stunned to do anything. They simply at stared at another in amazement. It was then that I noticed the guy who had killed my precious daughter and the love of my life. He had to be no more than forty- five. He looked like he was sixty. I stared at him and I hated him and if I had a gun, I would have shot him then and there. Helen, my darling, I have never seen so much sorrow as glared down at the man. He was a pathetic looking man and he was crying like a small child. I looked at the Christmas tree and it was still shining if not brighter. That’s when I knew what I had to do.
The policemen and the forensics were snapping pictures of the wreck and the Christmas tree. Your dad’s pictures and Casssie’s were making breaking news. I told one
forensic to give me the Christmas and she did. Two days before you got home, the Christmas tree glowed softly and it was all very strange. Then it went out.
I knew what God was trying to tell me. Was I going to blow away somebody’s life because they had blown away my two precious ones lives’? When Jesus came as a baby he knew that he was going to pay for sins he had never committed. The next day I went to see the judge at court. I asked him to let the charges go, but he said that the man was sentenced to twenty years of prison for drinking while driving. He could not let him go free, but if I signed some documents then he could be in for ten years instead of twenty.
“What’s his name, Mom?” “His name is… John, Helen.” I was talking to him on the phone as you were eavesdropping.” “You knew that?” inquired Helen. “Mothers know all things Helen,” replied her mother as a matter of factly. “I am so sorry Mom.” “But there’s another thing I don’t understand. How comes I never heard of this Christmas tree story?” said Helen. I think Helen that your eyes were blinded and your ears deafened by God so that you could learn true forgiveness. It’s hard Helen, but it’s a process we all must undergo. God never said it would be easy.” “Yes, you are right. He didn’t.”
“Mom, look at the Christmas tree. Its lights are back on to remind us of God’s grace and mercy. Look even the ornaments are on the tree. What a Christmas Eve!” exclaimed Helen. “Helen, John wants to come for a visit tomorrow on Christmas day. That is if you don’t mind. And he would like to go to Cassie’s bedroom and feel God’s love in there. He will be with a guard at all times. I have visited him many times, Helen, and he’s a man who loves God wholeheartedly.” “That’s alright
Mom. It will be hard, but if God can forgive me, then I can forgive him as well. “I love you very much, Mom” said Helen wiping away a tear.
“We have a Christmas party to make. How many family members are coming tomorrow, Mom?” “Actually, Helen, I just talked to your cousins in New York and they said they can’t make it for this one. Your grandparents are busy. I think they said they were going on a cruise or something like that. I am sorry. It will be just the two of us and John and his guard. I need to get to the store and buy a chicken and some gifts”. “I will stay home and start decorating”, said Helen smiling up at her mother. It could be nice to get something for John and his guard, Helen once they come”, said Mary. I can buy anything you want for the two them. You just need to name it”. “I was actually thinking a small simple cross, Mom. To remind John that Christ has forgiven him and so have I.
The next morning, Helen woke up to her mother singing to Joy to the World on CD. She smiled and got up from her comfortable bed. “Merry Christmas Mom!” “Merry Christmas Helen!” they hugged each and stared at each other for a full minute, smiling. “What time are we expecting them, Mom?” “It’s almost seven. They should be here at eight”, answered her mother.
She continued helping her mother in the kitchen and soon, the bell rang. “Go answer it, Helen.” Her mother whispered to her. She walked slowly toward the big door. Her heart pounding so hard that she thought it could be heard by the men at the door. Helen stared in surprise at the man. He had the saddest eyes she had ever seen. She looked at him and smiled. “Welcome, John” “I am sorry, Helen”, said John weeping like a small child.
She looked at his guard and she saw that he too was moved by it. Boy, oh boy, the Press would have a holiday if they got the wind of this, the guard said, tilting his head and smiling up at her. I can almost see the headline: KILLER RETURNS TO REPENT”. Later through the day, she would learn that the same day of the accident, John received the news that his wife had died suddenly. Their only child had died just a couple weeks before her. She thanked God for his forgiveness.