By Tim Hayes

It’s getting close to the time when people start wishing for a “white Christmas,” but we had one 32 years ago that can never be topped – at least in my memory.

Plans called for me to drive my rickety Beetle over to my girlfriend’s house the evening of December 24th, to attend Christmas Eve midnight Mass with her and her family, then to return to my family’s house in the wee hours of the night for Christmas Day festivities the next morning.

But Mother Nature, as she so often does when winter rolls around in these parts, decided to toss a huge monkey wrench into those oh, so carefully rendered plans.  The city got hit with one of those wild storms that had something for everyone – rain, sleet, snow, ice.  Any way in which two molecules of hydrogen and one molecule of oxygen could combine?  We saw it that afternoon and evening, in various degrees of degrees, no less.

Here’s where the amazing power of family kicked in, though.  My folks offered to use their larger, more stable sedan to get me to my girlfriend’s house in the midst of that sloppy, soupy, slippery panoply of precipitation.  I would stay overnight there on the couch in the game room, and get home on Christmas Day courtesy of either my parents or hers.

The drive across town that evening ended up as harrowing as expected, but we made it.  I got deposited at her house, but learned that the roads to her family’s home parish were virtually impassible.  We couldn’t go to church where they went to church, so on to Plan B – attending services at a parish a little farther away, that none of us had ever been to, but that could be reached more safely.

After getting the phone call that my parents had made it back to their house, I climbed into the car with my girlfriend’s family for midnight Mass.  Another brief white-knuckle ride later over icy roads covered with a layer of fresh unplowed and unsalted snow, we arrived and filed into the unfamiliar building.

The Mass, naturally, was beautiful.  The comfort of familiar carols, the sense of community and shared faith, and of course the wonderful story of the Nativity, all contributed to the evening’s enjoyment.

But somehow I couldn’t quite let myself relax and savor the experience fully.  I had something else, something bigger, something monumental on my mind.  And in my right pocket.

Toward the end of the service, as is standard, the priest invites everyone to share a “sign of peace” with each other, usually a smile, a handshake, a hug, whatever you feel is appropriate.  That was the cue I had been waiting for, planning and strategizing over it for months.  After all the obstacles, all the help from family, all the craziness of that night, the moment had nearly arrived.

At last, the words came from the altar, “Now, let us offer each other a sign of peace.”

From my right pocket, I took the ring – a small, thin little thing, with a chip of diamond on it that may not have been worth much in dollars, but to me meant everything I had ever hoped for – and simply held it up to her, not saying a word, waiting for the answer in her lovely green eyes.

It may have been an ice-encrusted, snow-avalanched, stay-off-the-roads kind of night outside.  But inside that sanctuary, in which we set foot that one and only time, warmth and joy flooded and overflowed – first to the two of us, then to her family, then to the whole section of the church who had seen what just happened.

And all the Christmases since then have been every bit as magic.  Whether “white” or not.

Merry Christmas to you and yours, and may you enjoy every good thing in the new year.  See you again in 2014.

Copyright 2013 Tim Hayes Consulting