In Calgary, Alberta, on December 21, the day of the Winter Solstice, an awesome black sky shadowed the earth, dropping more than a foot of snow and blocking out the Christmas Star.
Luckily for us, we have a weather app. Seeing this strong storm in the forecast we knew our best chance of seeing the star would be Sunday night. The planets would not be perfectly aligned, but still, they would be an awesome sight. And so, it came to pass we decided to go for our first ever mountain night hike. It did not disappoint.
It's always magical to be hiking in the mountains, but to hike there in winter, and to hike there in the dark, under the light of the stars and moon? It’s incredible.
As we enjoyed our evening under the stars, we could easily make out the ‘almost’ Christmas Star. We could also see the billions of other stars comprising our milky way. We marvelled that we had decided to leave the city to view this sight, knowing it would disappear the following evening when the snow began.
Actually, the Christmas Star did not disappear at all. She was still shining in all her glory. We simply did not have the advantage of being in a position to see her. It was easy to pretend she was not there.
So it is with life.
On Monday morning, before the snow fell, I met with my former student, now friend, Kenley, to deliver a vehicle filled with Christmas gifts to a family whose child attends our former school. That’s where I met Kenley; she as a student and I the teacher. She and I and many other alumni continue to stay connected, and continue to do much of the local and global citizenship work we started during our time at the school. This year, Kenley was remembering how rewarding it had been when we helped out some of the school’s families in need during the Christmas season. She wondered if there might be a family who needed our help this year.
A few quick phone call and emails later, we had a family. Kenley spread the word, we both collected gifts and presto, there we were with an SUV filled to the brim on Monday morning. We had the google map instructions to the home in the country. I had contacted the mom of the family. Let’s call her Annie. Annie knew we would arrive at 11 in the morning. She was expecting a few gifts for her two boys, one who attends school, and one who is not yet school age. We had had buckets of fun adding some extra gifts too, for the adults in the family, plenty for the boys and some gift cards to help with the extras.
We drove in tandem, each excited and nervous at once. I don’t know what I was expecting to find, but whatever it was, it wasn’t what we found. The humble home looked barely tall enough to stand up in. The outside was made of plain boards of wood, covered with moss. There was not one ounce of doubt we were at the right place.
Annie came out to meet us immediately. Having spoken to her on the phone, I re-introduced myself as Liz Critchley, and I introduced Kenley. We were not wearing our masks, having chosen to stay physically distanced from each other. I was glad the masks were off.
Annie said to me, ‘I think I know you’. She did have a slightly familiar look, but I couldn’t place her. Annie said, ‘You taught me math in Junior High’. Suddenly the light dawned. I could place Annie. And now, here she was again, and here I was, and here Kenley was; just three women, together on a winter morning. We talked a bit and caught up; Annie’s road has not been the smoothest. We unloaded the gifts which we stacked outside in the snow. We had to work quickly since the boys were inside and out of sight for just a couple of minutes.
And that was it. We all had tears as we bid each other a very Merry Christmas. I wished we could have stayed longer, but Annie’s boys needed their mom. Kenley and I drove out of the yard, and up the road about 500m. I pulled over and Kenley pulled over behind me. We were both in tears. I didn’t grow up believing that having money was the goal. We learned that wealth came in many forms. I’ve also seen my share of people who are struggling. But re-connecting with Annie, and seeing her challenges with trying to care for her two boys, was completely overwhelming.
As I drove home, I could picture the 13-year-old Annie I had known. She came to school every day and was always delighted to be there. I think I knew at the time she did not come from one of the families who had the means for extravagant trips and homes. Wealth was never the measure of how I cared for my students. Annie worked hard, and was kind. She didn’t complain and she often put others ahead of herself.
Once Kenley and I composed ourselves we got back in our cars and continued on home, each lost in our thoughts. I couldn’t help but think about Annie, and about the Christmas Star. I knew that just because the Star was obstructed with cloud on Monday night, didn’t mean it wasn’t shining. Just because Annie showed up at school, ready to do her best, didn’t mean she wasn’t struggling. Just because I’ve never seen her home or her circumstance, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Each of us have times in our lives when our star shines brightly. We also each have times when others can hardly see our star at all. Each of us have clouds that can periodically obscure our best parts. And each of us have a few fleeting moments when we shine in all our glory. On Monday I learned to believe in stars; to believe in the stars we can see, and in the ones we cannot. I also remembered that I need to look for the shining stars inside each person I meet.
I know on Christmas morning there was a bright star shining over that little home in the countryside and I'm so grateful to all those who helped made it happen.
Blessings to you this Christmas Season. May your star brightly shine, and may we each find the stars shining in others.
My inquiry for you this week is, “Do you see what I see? A star, a star, dancing in the night…..”
Elizabeth is a certified professional Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership coaching. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. She has particular expertise in facilitating Strategic Plans for organizations. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to identify the star inside yourself and inside others.