Christmas Card 2015

IMG_2593…At Last!
And this year, it’s posted before WASHINGTON’S BIRTHDAY! 🙂
For those who don’t know, My Christmas Card traditionally arrives sometime in January or February, but has always made it out before Easter Sunday! After so many years, it has become somewhat of a Lovely Tradition!
I think of it as one way of Celebrating the Values of Christmas the Whole Year through!
As we get deeper into Winter, reminders of Kindness, Generosity, Love, Peace on Earth and Good Will toward Everyone are generally Welcome and Appreciated.
I hope that this story can be that for you.
And So, here even in the middle of February, I offer you my Christmas Card.
Feel free to curl up with a  Mug of Hot Cacao, or your favorite Tea, and Enjoy!
Sent to you with Love and Wishing You all the Bountiful Blessings of Winter…

It’s All Gift

by Arnold J. Mungioli

She sat in the vinyl coated chair wondering why it was so uncomfortable, and knowing full well that vinyl was easier to clean and therefore more sanitary.
She had studied chemistry as a girl with dreams of becoming the next Marie Curie.
It did not escape her — the embarrassment of world culture that there had been not one vaccine to stop a disease in more than three score. She had a fire in her soul to remedy that.
Then she met him.

He was breathing quietly with his eyes closed.
He wanted more than anything to give her a good and secure life. That was his number one concern and his life’s priority. The twenty-five thousand dollars a year he made from their small farm and working in the popcorn factory in Indiana put them statistically in the top three per cent of the world’s wealth. So, on a worldwide scale, he was doing quite well. More than that, they felt rich. Living in Gratitude made them wealthy — Not having everything they wanted, but wanting everything they had. They never dwelled on lack and they never coveted what anyone else had. They recognized that what they had together was the most valuable thing in the world. Yet, it is only once we have found the Love of our Life that we can know the weightiness of the fear of losing that — as if the most extreme human terror lay inextricably buried within the Soul’s highest elation. Now, even as she fought off this fear every day, still her heart brimmed over with Gratitude for having it.

Only a few months earlier, this new journey began — it had been an ordinary day, except that he had mentioned some shortness of breath and some uncomfortable pains. They worked hard and it was physical labor of the heartiest kind. This was their prime season and each day the physical demands of their work were more than most people would see in a week. They were strong and hardy laborers — somewhere between farmers and factory workers; they worked the farm through the corn harvest, and worked in the factory the other half of the year. Two of a legion of heroes whose names we would never know. They were part of a corps that provided food to the masses. When they had done similar work in Ecuador years before, they were hailed as members of the Peace Corps, and celebrated. Here they were ignored, unknown, and would be forgotten like thousands before them and thousands more after. Still, they saw work as its own reward and the secret to a good life, and they were happy.

“We’re getting older. This new corn is twice as large and twice as heavy as what we used to grow,” she comforted him, rubbing his back. “You’re still my Hunky SuperHero.” But even as she kissed him offering words of reassurance, she could see that this was not the familiar discomfort of backbreaking labor. Maybe something was wrong. What if he were physically unable to do it this season? How would they get through? She could probably handle more than her share, but could she do enough so that they could make it through another year? What if he were physically unable to work again? Farmers and minimum-wage-factory workers don’t have the pensions, 401K and retirement luxuries that some city folk take for granted. They work and then they die. She was scared but remained hopeful that there was nothing of which to be afraid. After thirty-six hours of this uncharacteristic discomfort, he finally agreed to allow her to call the Doctor. And after three months of tests, treatments, hospitals, specialists, radiation and chemotherapy, they found themselves here.

She looked at his face beaming, as he rested. It was Christmas Eve, and whereas almost anyone would agree this would seem like one of the worst ways to spend it, they were grateful for this Christmas together. He began to snore lightly, and she quietly opened the canvas bag she had brought. She took out a small Christmas tree (a branch, really, scarcely two feet high, nailed into two crossed pieces of wood), a box of a dozen small ornaments (She had made the time to go through and selected a few of his favorites), a string of steady-burning white lights, and some festive colorful garland. She spoke not a word but went straight to her work. It was fairly simple, but she knew it would mean the world to him. She also knew that he probably wouldn’t remember that their first Christmas together, she was so dazzled by his delight over the festive holiday decorations that she made him a promise that as long as he was with her, she would always make Christmas for him just that way — lights, music, a Tree… She had kept that promise every year since, and while they had both grown up enjoying no shortage of warm Christmas Memories as was common in that era, there was nothing as Beautiful as the Christmases they shared together. And she would see that tonight would be no exception.

She decorated the small tree, and hung the garland along the medical instruments and machines above the bed. She took out her portable cassette player, and softly played a tape of his favorite Christmas songs she had mixed for him. Finally, she placed a Santa NightCap on his head which delighted him, as he opened his eyes and looked around. There is nothing as Beautiful as seeing Christmas reflected in the eyes of someone you Love — that someone may be a child, a parent, a spouse, a friend, a neighbor… really anyone. For her, that someone was him. And while Christmas lights and a small tree can transform any environment into an enchanted land of childlike Joy and Wonder, the stark contrast between what this room had been only a few moments before, and how it looked and felt now, was enough to make anyone believe in Magic. And where there is Magic, there is Hope.

It is these simple Acts of Love that enhance our Lives like Baby’s Breath in a bouquet. And just as Baby’s Breath lasts longer than any other flower, these enhancements to our lives created by these simple acts of Love — those we receive and those we give — are all we take with us when we go.

Diacetyl. It is that chemical ingredient in ‘buttered popcorn’ that makes the ‘natural butter flavor.’ It is a hyper flavor, similar to MSG or the powder used on nacho corn chips or cheese puffs — other corn products manufactured here. It was proven over a decade ago to directly cause cancer. Corporations attribute their abounding wealth to the use of such ingredients. This never made any sense to her. She understood nothing about profit margins. She would not have been able to comprehend the revenues accumulated by Boards of Directors of such corporations. She did not grasp that the simple work they did with a corn crop had this very week put literally millions of dollars in Christmas bonuses into the pockets of eight men she would never meet, nor would she have been able to conceive how any one person would ever be able to spend such an obscene amount of money.

Even more incomprehensible was the recent proliferation of liquid nicotine. E- cigarettes seemed to have the potential to reduce the risk of cancer, by removing the tobacco smoke ingested into the lungs. But most of the liquids are being enriched with diacetyl to boost the flavor. Why would you remove the cancer-causing element from something, only to replace it with another cancer-causing ingredient? Did these eight men actually believe they made more profit this way?

They were farmers. It was Monsanto who changed their lives. Some twenty years earlier, they were forbidden to grow their own seed and were instructed to report any neighboring farmers who did. It was very much how she’d imagined a police state from books she had read as a young girl, like that one by George Orwell. In addition, they now worked off-season in the local factory, mixing the corn with a butter flavoring containing diacetyl, for convenient use in microwaves. This simple routine cost many people their lives — people they knew. Where was the FDA? The evidence was strong enough now, but nothing was being done.

She wrapped her hand around three of his fingers — his hands were much bigger than hers and this is how they had always held hands. She admired him so much. He was unwilling to succumb. He saw cancer as a Great Teacher, which of course it is. It had come into their lives to teach them things about their relationship, about one another, about healing, about themselves. And he planned to be its most enthusiastic, A-plus student. She was its student as well. His Doctor had laughed a bit when he heard that.
“Well, I can’t say that I’ve ever heard cancer called a Great Healer.”
They both expressed their confidence that it would be so for them.
They embraced it immediately, as if it had arrived in their lives almost as expected, and they welcomed it.

Most of us in similar circumstances do not see so immediately how lucky are we that the Angel of Mortality taps us on the shoulder and reminds us that this life is not forever, awakening us to treasure it and realize its Beauty — ever reminding us to take time and enjoy what we Love with the time that we have. Those whose lives have been touched by this Angel share a special appreciation for each day as a gift — this mysterious and gentle caress eradicates all presumptions of entitlement, and once so enlightened, there is no going back. Each day, each moment, each breath… it’s all Gift! At this moment of transformation, an awakening occurs which can never be dispelled. Those who are very lucky receive this sight while they are still able to enjoy a long sacred dance ahead of them.

His Doctor had found their perspective at first disconcerting, being a bit of a typical small town Doctor, unfamiliar with new age philosophies.
But he also had the heart of a small town Doctor, and was warmed, if quite surprised, by their take on it.
“You have Stage Four Cancer,” he said in a most somber tone, and with genuine concern, as the good Doctor had come to deliver this news with relative regularity in this small town since the factories had moved in, and the corn had been ‘enriched’ and ‘improved.’
“How many stages are there?” he asked, with the curiosity of an enthusiastic child.
“Four,” the Doctor replied in an even more subdued tone.
“Well, then I’ve reached the Top Level!” he smiled broadly. “I tell you, Doctor, this is a great gift. I know that it will be a hardship and it may be the most difficult journey of my life yet. But I got my masters degree in biochemistry — that was difficult but I learned so much. I grew up working on a farm in these parts, and that was a weighty hardship and in many ways an even more momentous teacher. And I am fully willing to accept your diagnosis as both the greatest hardship and the Greatest Teacher of all.”
Can a Doctor fall in love with his patient?
In this moment, he did — the way one falls, just kind of stumbling quite by accident into more of a relationship with another human being than one might have anticipated. It happens to people every day — sometimes it’s a romantic love, and other times it’s a soul connection.
You see, we often think of the body housing the soul, but that is not accurate. It is the body that is contained by the soul. Souls are infinite, and much larger than bodies, which are quite finite. And so, sometimes, when we meet someone and we feel perhaps that we have always known that person, it may be because our souls have in fact already met, and it just takes our bodies, contained therein, awhile to catch up and actually come in physical contact with one another. So it had been between him and the Doctor.
The Doctor had seen many succumb to illnesses of all kinds — some to ailments that were relatively minor and would have amounted to nothing more than a week or two in bed for someone else. He had also seen cases of spontaneous remission, which he himself and even the more prestigious hospitals from the bigger cities with which he was affiliated could not explain. He held a personal belief that there was something to this, and he felt he had just met the boldest case yet of a human being committed to healing through Faith. He did not know if it would work, but he did feel somehow privileged that this patient would be his.

The Doctor included her on all the details of care for this situation. She received sheets and sheets of instructions. The very first one said to never put a paper towel on top of food when microwaving it. She wondered if people knew this — she certainly didn’t. How were people to find these things out?

He looked around at the Magic she had created for him, even here.
There was so much he wished he could give to her. That’s how it is when you fall truly in Love. You want so to give each other more, and yet each of you wants nothing more than what you already have in each other. Well, sure, we all want things, but the important stuff — when you finally grow aware of your own capability of Loving, you have everything that matters.
Still, he had always aspired to that forty thousand a year mark. He was not aware that that would shift him upward to the top two per cent of the world’s wealthiest. He only thought of making her life better. And he felt he owed that to her, for all she had given up for him. It was hard for him to imagine nearly doubling his salary. He had never achieved that, and now it seemed all the less likely — or less important.

They had no opinion of riches. They had no sense of lack and they always felt they had enough to share with others in need, as well as plenty of others on whom they could depend when times were bad.
They both saw it as a World, beyond their small community in Indiana. One World. One People. One Big Spiritual Embracing. And they knew they were lucky because they had hot and cold running water and ninety per cent of the planet does not. They didn’t know the financial statistics — that an estimated six billion people live on less than thirteen thousand dollars a year, and that nearly half the planet’s population survives on less than two dollars a day.
What they did know is that they had enough. And they felt Lucky.

Her mind drifted to the darnedest things — cleaning the metal faucets in the bathroom every other day. Farming and factory work are hard, and the extra effort for things like housework on the kind of a regular basis on which it was required was somewhat Herculean. She didn’t mind. She knew he liked it. He liked a clean bathroom with shiny faucets and no mildew on shiny tiles, She made sure he had this as part of his day. She took his liking it for Gratitude. And it was — especially at the Holidays. The more mirrors and metal surfaces were shined, the more lights would reflect and the more magic would be felt. It was a simple formula for decorating, but it made their home the most popular in the town at this time of year.

Neighbors gravitated to them to share in the holidays; really, to share in their Love and to enjoy some of the simple Joys which were so palpable in their Lives. There were always fresh baked cookies and plenty of red and white striped candy canes for the kids, as well as the prettiest Christmas Tree. This year, some of the neighbors were staying away. But she had learned through this Great Teacher to ask for help, something at which she had never been particularly good, and she knew that those who stayed away did so, not out of malice, but out of confusion, not knowing what to do, and wanting to stand back and give her space. She corrected that by asking for help where she needed it — even asking some neighbors to bake the cookies or pick up the candy canes in town. And the affirmation that she was correct, was in the Gratitude and relief she felt from the neighbors who were quick to agree and very willing to help. She was continuing to expand community, even when she could not be the hostess. She was continuing to Learn — there were so many Great Gifts in all of this.

Only those who have been through such things can know. It is as if you are granted membership in some secret club, and once initiated, which takes nothing more than a diagnosis, you see life through this filter of heightened appreciation — as if you are one step removed from it, and with even only this slight distance, its value shines with sudden dazzling clarity. All those things you took for granted — taking a shower without having to work around intravenous tubes and that ubiquitous tape that seems more suited to hardware than skin, the ability to workout or go for a run whenever you want, rushing out to get a quart of milk or something from the store, and running up and down the steps without thinking about it… it’s all Gift. Furthermore, you gain the wisdom that this Journey must be faced alone; you accept that, and yet in bold contradiction you resolve for not one more moment to pass without your partner by your side, holding tight to one another in this Life. Don’t go without me! I don’t want to leave you! And suddenly the realization that most likely, whenever it comes about, one will precede the other, and one will be left alone, makes every moment together glisten as even more of a miracle than it seemed an instant ago. You hold on so tight to things to which you never gave a thought. Fresh flowers… Wow! With a Life so short — well, the flower’s and yours, actually — you get to see, smell, and appreciate as if for the first time yet another great individual Beauty of this world; then, all at once, even with your body going through physical changes that might seem jarringly grotesque to those less enlightened — you finally comprehend the powerful Beauty of your self. If you are very lucky, membership in this club arrives in your life in time for the lessons of this Great Teacher to take hold, color and influence every breath you take that follows, and you recover to live in gratitude and awareness. Strange, that we think ourselves the lucky ones.

She was brought back into the room by the sound of his breathing getting heavier. Nothing dramatic had occurred but he had dozed off again, and the sound reminded her that it was time for his painkiller. She went to the Nurse’s Station and asked about it.
“Blah Blah Christmas Eve. Blah Blah Fewer Doctors on Staff this Evening. Blah Blah they’ll be in as soon as they can get to it. Blah Blah in about an hour.”
Shirley MacLaine’s Academy Award winning “Give my daughter the shot” scene had nothing on this quiet Indiana FarmGirl.
She abruptly took the hand of the Head Nurse, and a bit too firmly locking it in her own, she asked, “Would you like to get the key or shall I?” Then she led her forcefully to the locked medicine cabinet, and lifted one of the small paper cups to receive the pill. After it was dropped in the cup, like a coin into one of the bright red tin Salvation Army cauldrons out on Main Street, the Nurse’s hand was released and she quickly rubbed it with her other hand to sooth it.
“Thank You for giving with your heart,” she stated sincerely, toasting the Head Nurse with the small paper cup.

Then the Head Nurse looked into his room.
“What is this? What is This!???” she asked.
She had made it to the position of Head Nurse by being very strict about regulations. She was not without compassion, but as she pointed out, entering the room, “These are a hazard. I am very sorry, but you cannot have garlands and wires hanging here, and breakable glass ornaments! This is a hospital. I have to ask you to take all of this down immediately. Is this a real tree? How did you get all of this in here!?”

Steadfastly ignoring the Nurse, she gently poured him some water. He thanked her. He felt so cared for by her. He had always been the caretaker and that was the way they both would have preferred it. But this was not the Christmas of what one might prefer. This was the Christmas of learning and growing from challenges and discovering of what we might be capable. This was the Christmas of caring for one another. This was the Christmas of finding Christmas within all that we do not prefer to be happening — and of learning to accept all of the gifts that brings.

The Nurse began to dismantle the decorations.
She was not a mean person — she had come of age in her career before our medical system had grown so fractured. Like most nurses today, she had entered a helping profession as a young girl in an attempt to do some good in the world, and now her work was mostly about insurance clearances and serving the profit-mongering of corporations which giving themselves the misnomer “Health Care Providers” were actually in the lowly business of making money profiteering off of people’s illness.
Following strict rules of patient care was the only way left that this woman felt able to connect to helping.

“Please,” she implored the Nurse, appealing to her humanity.
“Just tonight. Just for Christmas Eve. Would you mind if we… just for tonight…”
“Young Lady, these are a hazard. What if we need to get in here quickly? We cannot handle emergency care on this patient with all of these encumbrances. This is not acceptable,” and with that she reached her manly arms to pull down the garlands from the instruments above. As she did so, there was a sudden shift in the light.

“Nurse, what are you doing!?” reprimanded the familiar voice of the Doctor, who suddenly appeared in the doorway, as if out of nowhere.
Everyone was taken aback.
Was he there the whole time?
Had he been listening?
Was he real or an apparition? Perhaps an Angel — perhaps he had been an Angel all along.
“We are removing these obstructions to ensure patient safety, Doctor. It is required that there be no obstruction according to hospital code.”
“Are you aware that hospital code provides for this patient, under experimental treatment, that anything we try is at my discretion and my directive?”
“Well, yes, Doctor, of course, but basic safety precautions must be observed.”
“The scent of this pine branch is an aromatherapy treatment which I prescribed specifically for this evening. The visual stimulation of these bright colors is necessary for retina stimulation.”
There was a pause.
She rose, grateful to him, took the garland kindly from the Nurse’s hand and hung it back up.
The Nurse replied, “Yes, Doctor.”
“And Thank You for your fine service,” he added, seeing her for who she truly was, as she left the room with her usual expedience and efficiency.

“I just stopped in to wish you both a Merry Christmas,” he said, as he took his patient’s hand. “How are we doing?”
Struggling to sit up, he replied, “Better each day, Doc.”
“Good. Good,” the Doctor affirmed as he looked into his eyes, and squeezed his hand.
The light shifted again.
And with that the Doctor vanished as suddenly as he had appeared.

His eyes gazed at her. He could think of nothing but hiding the pain from her, and in truth it was not so difficult. It was almost as if the sight of her and all the Love he felt blasted out the pain the way a high octane fire extinguisher annihilates flames, pushing them back into the recesses until a space is cleared. One look at her was all he needed. Besides that, at this particular moment the itching from the pain of the tape on the intravenous was greater than any other discomfort he now felt.
“C’mon,” she told him, as she gently rubbed his shoulder. “Sit up.”
He obeyed. The feeling of trust they had in one another was so complete.
“It’s Christmas Eve, ya’ know.”
“Oh. Did’ya’ bring me a present?’ he replied, smiling coyly. Then he looked up into her eyes.
She kissed him gently.
“A Thimble!” he proclaimed with elation, referencing the story of PETER PAN in which Peter confuses a thimble and a kiss.
“Yeah,” she smiled. “And I got this for ya’ too.
She poured some more water from the small beige plastic pitcher into the styrofoam cup, and gave him the pill for which she had fought. He accepted it lovingly.
“That’s my Hunky SuperHero!”
“Thank you,” he said to her, with deep sincerity. He knew that her caretaking for him was not instinctual to either of them, and administering his meds was an act of Love and Learning, inspired by the Great Teacher. He was not aware of how she had to battle an overtaxed and overburdened staff to make sure he got them on time.

“I got something for you too.
If you reach in that drawer…” he indicated with a nod.
She was slightly baffled, but opened the drawer of his nightstand to find a gaily wrapped gift box, quite tiny.
He nodded and she lifted the box from the drawer.
She wondered how this could have happened when she’d been with him pretty constantly for the last several weeks.
“Aren’t ya’ gonna’ open it? Ya’ know, we don’t really know how much time I have here,” he joked.
She gently slapped his hand, then clutched his three fingers tenderly.
A moment later, she unwrapped the box, and found inside a stone, hand painted with the word, “Today.”
Just like that, with a period after it.

She looked into his eyes and he into hers, and she fell into the bed rolling into an embrace with him.

The message was implicit: That’s what we got, and we are Grateful to have it.
They shut the fluorescent light over the head of the bed, and held each other quietly as the moonlight shone in through the window.
Moonlight? Perhaps, the light of one shining star.
Those Christmas Eve skies in places as remote as Indiana and Bethlehem can be quite unpredictable.

They were so happy to be with one another.

There was no Miraculous cure. But there was continued progress. It wasn’t the Christmas Miracle everyone might have ideally liked. But true to their nature, it was as Beautiful a Gift as has ever been received: Christmas Eve Together — The Present Moment they shared: The closest approximation of eternity that this world offers — Now.

The richest among us has no more. The poorest has no less.
To her that was the utmost Miracle, and it always had been. The gift of the Present Moment is the Most Wonderful Gift of All. That is what they celebrated this Christmas; that is everything they ever wanted.
And that is the paramount Gift — of Christmas, of Life, of All —

# # #

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  1. Kristen Blodgette

     /  February 21, 2016

    Arnold did you write this? Unbelievably beautiful. Thankyou Thankyou. Beautiful

  2. Harlene Michaels

     /  February 21, 2016

    Beautiful, so moving!

  3. dsbishop

     /  February 21, 2016

    What a beautiful story, beautifully told! And just in time for TODAY. Thank you for sharing your incredible gift with the world!

  4. So much love in every line. Thank you for this beauty-full story, Arnold!

  5. Kimberly O'Young

     /  February 23, 2016

    So beautiful Arnold! I loved this! And I love that you sent your story out after Christmas. It is a great reminder that we need to look at each day with the anticipation and gratitude for what blessings that day holds for us. Thank you for sharing your gift and a reminder of “the Gift” ❤️

  6. Reading this wonderful story with my morning coffee … what an inspiring way to start my day. Thank you!

  7. James Elmore

     /  February 23, 2016

    This isn’t at all what I was expecting, but it somehow encapsulates who you are and what you hold dear better than last year’s recap. Well crafted. Thank you for the reminder to be here now, the second of the day (and thank you, God). My poor brain gets so wound up at times with hows and whatifs that influence how I meet my now and how my now shows up. But right now, I am filled with love for an old friend finding me and sharing his art. Every blessing, Arnold!

  8. Adam

     /  March 16, 2016

    My grandfather died beside me two weeks before you sent this. He was my best friend. He loved me more than anyone else on the planet. I’m still trying to let go. This helped. Thank you.

    • Beautiful ADAM!
      I know how much he meant to you — and how much you meant to him!
      I offer you these words which have been of great comfort to me in such times
      I send them to you with My Love! :

      “I am standing upon the seashore.
      A ship at my side spreads his white sails to the morning breeze And starts for the blue ocean.

      He is an object of Beauty and Strength.
      I stand and watch him until at length he hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come down
      to mingle with each other.

      Then, someone at my side says,
      “There, he is gone!”

      Gone where?
      Gone from my sight. That is all.
      He is just as large in mast and hull and spar as ever He was when he left my side –
      Just as able to bear his load of living freight to the place of his destination.
      His diminished size is in Me,
      Not in Him.

      And just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There, he is gone!”
      There are other eyes watching him coming.
      Other voices take up the glad shout,
      “Here he comes!”

      And that is dying.”

      — authorship attributed to both Henry Van Dyke
      and also Bishop Charles Henry Brent

      • dsbishop

         /  March 19, 2016

        Wow. What a beautiful analogy, and one I find immeasurably helpful as I reflect on my own losses and sorrows. What a wonderful reframing of the experience of death. Thank you for sharing it, Arnold.

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