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What If, On the Night Before Christmas

By Cindy Murphy


Tags: homeless, Christmas, holidays,

CindyMurphyBlog.jpgI should start this blog by saying I am not a poet. “Iambic” sounds to me like a declaration of one’s identity if one happens to be named “Bic,” instead of an adjective relating to, or consisting of iambs. What is an “iamb” anyway? The meter of the following poem is not my own, it’s a parody, though not a humorous parody. Never-the-less, it is a cheap imitation of another well-known and much-loved poem. And I could have titled it “Twas the Night of Bad Poetry,” but I didn’t. Sometimes something will come along, and you just have to go with wherever your mind takes you. This was one of those times.

Christmas when I was growing up was magical. My parents, following an old European custom that has origins long since forgotten, went all out on Christmas Eve. Santa brought everything! He brought not only gifts and filled stockings, but he also brought the entire tree, fully decorated, for us to wake up to Christmas morning. Sometimes we’d even hear sleigh bells ring up on the rooftop at night and his heavy footsteps as he clomped around, making his way to the chimney. Years later, I discovered this wasn’t just an imagination working overtime in my excitement, but my Dad had actually got up in the attic, ringing bells and making sure he stomped loud enough for us to hear. I can’t imagine the work they packed into one night just for us kids to have a few moments of magic; magic would last a lifetime, long after the gifts were forgotten, as my brothers and I both remember with fondness days of Christmases past. If there was ever a Christmas that the gifts under the tree seemed scarcer than other Christmases (and I’m sure there were), my brothers and I never noticed.

Fast forward from my childhood to this Christmas season. I stressed as to how I would find the time to get my Christmas shopping done. I fretted that because money was tight this year, Christmas might seem slimmer than in years past; I worried that my daughters might be disappointed. Had my parents ever wondered and worried the same? It didn’t matter to us kids; all we experienced was magic. Would it matter to my kids? Should it matter to me? Something I read blew me away, and I started to wonder ... what if?

What If, On the Night Before Christmas

’Twas the night before Christmas, and out on the street,
The family huddled together, praying for heat.
The shelter was full, “There’s no room at the Inn.”
How did this happen, where’d it begin?

The children were nestled, with cardboard for beds.
With out-grown shoes on their feet, and no hats on their heads.
I look at them now, with pain in my heart.
Again I ask, “How did this happen, how did it start?”

I look at my wife; she deserves so much more.
I never meant for us to end up homeless and poor.
She works two jobs now; she’s always tired and beat.
But on minimum wage, it seems ends never meet.

A company downsizing, my job it was gone.
Everything was lost; it all turned out so wrong.
All that we’ve worked for; it seemed none of it mattered.
Just like that, the American Dream had been shattered.

The bills and the mortgage,
The credit card debt.
The condo vacation,
The SUV payment.
It all added up,
But what’s that they say:
Living beyond our means,
“It’s the American Way!”

I woke from the dream with start, in cold sweat.
The dream held a lesson; one I must not forget.
Absorbed in ourselves, in our sorrows and joys,
We forget the men, women, the girls and the boys.

For everyone, at times, can use the help of a stranger.
And in forgetting, there lies an inherent danger.
I remembered a man I’d seen just the other day,
Who I’d hurried past, on my merry little way.

He was dressed all in rags, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were tarnished with grime and with soot.
His eyes told a story, but I was unwilling to see –
This man could be anyone; he could even be me.

His hands held a sign: “Willing to work. Please, give me a chance.”
I hurried on by him, with barely a glance.
I looked straight ahead, my eyes kept averted.
“He’s just a bum,” my mind had asserted.
But what if I’d taken the time to see the pain in his eyes?
Would I have seen things differently, and thought otherwise?
Instead I passed him by, wrapped up in my own life,
Never thinking he might have a daughter, a son, and a wife.

Those less fortunate, with never enough to eat,
With no coats on their backs, or shoes on their feet.
No child should go hungry, no father despair 
Because he can’t provide for his family; it’s all so unfair.

What if he was my neighbor, my cousin, my brother?
What if he was me, and not some unfortunate other?
Who’s responsible for that man holding the sign?
The responsibility is everyone’s; it’s yours and it’s mine.

And when we view them as family, we can’t look away,
From the man with no job, our eyes filled with dismay.
From the child who is dirty, with clothes that are torn.
From the woman whose face is tired and worn.

What if I was that man, out in the cold?
Would I wish for presents wrapped in silver and gold?
Or would I hope that others take note, and remember my plight,
As I pray “Happy Christmas for all, and for all a warm night!”

“Families with children are now the fastest growing group of the homeless population in the United States. They account for about 40 percent of the people who become homeless each year, and currently make up 38 percent of the homeless. Of that population, 39 percent are children under the age of 18. One in 50 children in America is homeless.”

Please, let’s not forget them.

cindy murphy
12/20/2009 6:11:16 AM

These are puzzling times, Dave - it's those family traditions like your family's puzzle that make Christmas so memorable. It'd be a neat tradition to start with your grandson, if you haven't already. Your "Brrr cold" Nebraska comment is funny to me; that's the exact way I always describe the weather here - it's brrr-cold outside, as if it's one word. So, Merry Christmas from brrrr-cold Michigan to you too.


nebraska dave
12/19/2009 7:49:53 PM

Cindy, very cool poem. It is so meaningful. How often do we pass by the homeless with never a thought about what it would be like to not have a home, a warm bed to sleep in, or food on the table at meal time. It is sad that now we are seeing the increase in whole families that are homeless. Like Brenda said, “This is the richest nation in the world, what’s up with so many homeless.” As I look back into the growing up years there are only a few presents that I still remember getting for Christmas. Our tradition was always to put up the tree on Christmas Eve. I expect now that it was because the trees were greatly discounted on Christmas Eve. Some of the best memories of Christmas were the family and friends getting together for Christmas dinners, playing with cousins not seen for an entire year, board games, and puzzles. Every Christmas we put together a family puzzle. Merry Christmas from Brrrr cold Nebraska.


cindy murphy
12/19/2009 7:17:26 PM

Merry Christmas to you and yours, Vickie, and all the best in the upcoming year.


vickie
12/19/2009 2:57:22 PM

Cindy, Your message on this Christmas is so good. Like you said "everyone could use the help of a stranger." We all need to make sure we help each other. vickie


michelle house
12/18/2009 8:36:42 PM

Cindy, your poem is lovely, whose Seriously, I really liked Happy Holidays Michelle


cindy murphy
12/18/2009 7:50:58 PM

Brenda and Michelle, Thanks for comments about my poem. As I said, I am not a poet, but when I read those statistics, for whatever reason the words came when I started thinking about what if I was one of the homeless on Christmas with a family to worry about - not worrying about gifts under the tree, but worrying about how to keep them warm, and get them enough to eat. (I also read somewhere that one in every eight Americans goes hungry each day.) It's staggering. "One in every 50 children in America is homeless". It floored me. In this country? We do what we can; we give donations, we volunteer our time. But it never seems enough. It's easy to remember the homeless at Christmas - charities asking for donatations of money, warm clothing, food, toys, and such are in plain view, with booths or stations set up in stores, libraries, schools...even our dentist office offers a discount on cleanings for every new toy brought in and placed under the tree, that will go to needy children for Christmas. But what about the rest of the year? It's not that we forget - it's just a little harder to remember because it's not so visible. It shouldn't be harder. And that is sad.


michelle house
12/18/2009 4:07:04 PM

Cindy, What a wonderful memories you have from childhood. Poem, was beautiful, would you mind if I copied it to ABC Board, FB, and another board, I could post the link to here, or just the poem. Michelle.


brenda kipp_1
12/18/2009 3:55:03 PM

Cindy, I loved your poem! We should all stop giving each other gifts at Christmastime and use that money to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves. Thanks for the reminder about the plight of the homeless in this country, especially the children. Here we are one of the richest countries in the world and we have such a severe homeless problem. What's up with that? Thank you for sharing!