Christmas is not canceled this year
Posted on Dec 24, 2020 in Coaching
Christmas is not canceled this year
Candidly, people around the world are confessing that they feel as though Christmas is canceled and they don’t care. Supportive work peers who understand but don’t feel the same are respectfully allowing their peers to sit with this mindset.
But haven’t you studied the documentary by Theodore Geisel about that year the Grinch stole Christmas?
Without lights, presents, or even a rare roast beast – the Whos of Whoville still had Christmas.
Some may argue that the story is a myth. But is it?
30-years ago today, we were deployed with tens of thousands of other service members to the Middle East for Operation Desert Shield. Do you think it felt like Christmas for us? Yet we held the Christmas spirit regardless of the physical, emotional, political disparities.
We chose to.
My Platoon of Navy SEALs had been moved to a Navy Helicopter Carrier ship where we were berthed in bunk beds stacked 4 high, with less than 3-feet in the walkway. It was tight accommodations that worked sufficiently (as long as we coordinated who was getting in/out of their racks!)
Christmas Eve, each of us was consciously aware of our families and loved ones back in the US.
That’s when the 2nd tragedy of Desert Shield occurred.
The first reported death had been a friendly soldier run over by a tank within a compound. This second occurrence was a helicopter that went down into the ocean.
Eager to help, we grabbed our fins and masks ready to get in the water. But our adrenaline rush was left useless as we were informed that the crew had gone down with the bird. We were thanked and sent away.
Now, feeling useless, I went into the ‘gym’ where I plugged into 90-minutes of intense cardio on the rowing machine, lowering my emotional guard and losing myself in the music from my Walkman.
Exiting the showers, wearing only a towel and flip-flops I carried my douche kit. I was humming Christmas carols; lost in the endorphins. We hadn’t enjoyed showers up until this ship and I was feeling very relaxed and nostalgic as I entered the passageway.
Abruptly, I was greeted by an unpleasant sight.
Six of the ship’s junior Hospital Corpsmen, each with a lost look on their faces, walked aimlessly together pushing a gurney slowly forward. On the gurney was an open body bag. In the bag was the battered corpse of the downed helicopter’s Crew Chief. It appeared that he’d jumped from the bird as it smashed into the ocean. If you can imagine the impact of the water, the metal body of the helo, and the turning rotor blades, then you can imagine the condition of the lifeless body.
One sailor recognized me as the embarked Navy SEAL Hospital Corpsman and called out. All chins came up with a look of hope and a silent request for help across all faces.
Clearly, they were lost and looking for direction. No one even noticed that I wasn’t dressed as they searched for guidance. It wasn’t my ship. I didn’t know the protocol. But… when has that stopped me from responding?
I asked a few questions to get the lay of the land. I paired them together and sent them on specific errands with instructions to return directly with or without the information needed. Eager to be in action, the three pairs went their way and I stayed with the gurney.
I took in the story. Standing next to the body, the Crew Chief appeared to be a black man in his early 30s. I imagined he likely had a wife and kids along with parents who were concerned for his well-being. Back home, they would be thinking of him and wishing he was safe. I said a prayer for the family I imagined loved him and missed him.
Returning to our berthing space after the Corpsmen had returned with clarity in their work, my teammates could see the washed-out look on my face. How could I convey to them what I’d just experienced?
Instead, I focused on the time of year. Asked about their families back home and what they would be doing. Collectively we chose to connect to Christmas in the shoes we found ourselves in. Even without the rare roast beast.
Dr. Seuss was correct. You can choose.
Footnote: 3-days after we left that ship our former birthing compartment was explosively flooded after the ship hit an enemy mine. Life is uncertain – but you don’t have to be.
Wishing you and yours all the very best of the season!
– TC Cummings