Some place very busy, some age modern, there was a woman who woke alone on Christmas Day. She was in her car. When she lifted her head from the steering wheel that countered the gravity dragging her to the ground, a jolt of pain filled her cranium as light invaded her eyes. The cachinnation in the club from the night before rattled in her ears. Cocktail remnants were rancid on her breath, makeup clumpy, long hair awry. “Merry Christmas, you loser,” she said to the vanity mirror.
She had partied fabulously, a most pleasing heterogeneity of smart sophistication and feminine wile. Her dress was black, but not completely. A red sash revealed her small waist and her refusal to merely blend in. Accessories were minimal, as was makeup except for rich black mascara and light red lipstick. There was no mistaking the mastery of application that put it all just so. Even her heels were a brushstroke of genius, not patent leather to compete with the red, but a supple black atop three-inch spikes that flared slightly at the bottom for stability. She did not walk among the others. She moved and stared, capturing people with her eyes and sending an unspoken challenge. “Dare you speak to me?” The tilted grin that followed the eye-shot was playful, telling her admirers the risk might be worth it.
It was a contrivance, but an honest one. The facade and spellcasting game was a quest for love. Like any woman, she so desperately wanted to love and be loved, to know and be known, to belong. Success had come to her on Christmas Eve, or so she thought. She caught the attention of a suitable man, flirtations were exchanged, and plans were made. Then she had waited victorious in her car for the one who promised to rescue her, if only for the night, from the ever-present loneliness she veiled so well. But he never came. Drunken and rejected, all done up in perfection, the spellbinder had passed out on the steering wheel and spent Christmas Eve right there in the parking lot.
The church bells across the street woke her to the morning’s reality. There were people in the parking lot passing around her car. She saw women in coats with their husbands and children filing excitedly into the cathedral. Going to church was the last thing she planned to do on Christmas Day, but she was drawn to follow them inside. After the church-goers were in place and the bells done vibrating, she got out of her car and faltered to find her center. She went to the steps and ascended inside.
As quiet as a mouse, she peaked through the iron bars that graphed the little window on the heavy wooden door to the main room. She saw all the people in the pews rise and turn centerward as men and boys robed in white started to proceed down the isle. They held high a cross. The cross held high a hanging man, almost naked, and dead. They carried him toward a flowered altar through a cavernous space alive with candles and hymns. She did not understand all of it, but she knew the man on the cross was Jesus. She knew the people were attending Mass because she had gone with her grandmother when she had been young. Very young. So long ago.
She felt like the Little Match Girl in the story her grandmother used to read her, peering magically through a wall she could not traverse to a life that was not hers, only she knew she was not really a ragged child freezing and starving to death, alone out in the cold. Or was she?
A tear began to streak mascara down her cheek. Whatever force held her to the ground was suddenly competing with the one pulling her in, and she had to look away. She did not belong in there with those people. To the side of the vestibule, she saw light streaming through a stained glass window, and walked over to study it. She remembered the scene, but that day she saw it really for the first time. She saw a woman enthroned next to a man, a woman who was everything she was not and never would be, a simple-robed matriarch in blue with a white sash whose eyes were full of love. Upon her heart, nestled a son. Those graceful, motherly eyes looked down on the tired woman in black and red, but not with the contempt the wilted mesmerista of the night thought she surely must deserve from one so pure and holy. Instead, light and love flowed through the heavenly mother’s eyes past the baby she held and straight into the young woman’s own eyes, straight through her neurons and blood vessels, straight to her mind and heart.
The intensity was too much. The young woman’s body was suddenly heavy but not in a frightening way, as if she were being held, caught, grasped, redeemed. She lowered to her knees and bowed her head. For the first time in years, she said a prayer, only a word. “Jesus.” The love she gave and the love she received was almost unbearable. Curled there on that Christmas morn, her tears turned to sobs. She wanted to believe she was a woman worthy of love, and she felt a twinge of courage. Though she was sure the brightness would vaporize her on the spot, she dared to look back up at the child, dared to see beyond time and space. She knew with a certainty that defies explanation the Light and Love were from the very Embodiment of Hope who sustained her in existence.
She was infused with a courage she had never experienced in her whole life. Whoever held her, lifted her up. She was stronger, and she confessed her failures to herself, which she saw now with some clarity, and she promised to do better. She let herself believe that she could live a holier life. She did not know how she would make all the changes, but she saw Truth and, for some reason, feared not what it would demand of her. Even as she knew she would fail—fail a lot—she knew that she was somehow set down on the right path. The courage remained when she stepped back out of the thick stone walls of the church and into the morning sunshine. The people behind her sang:
“O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.”
She rejoiced. She was a woman changed by grace, a beloved child freed to find herself on the long journey of conversion uncoiling before her.