This year has been the most magickal of Christmases in the times that I can remember. None of us put a big emphasis on gifts- and what we did give or receive were either hand made or from the heart. Nothing compares to the experiences we had as a family and the blending of all our extended families this year. And the Smokies are such a magickal place anyway.
This story is about what happened the Sunday before Christmas, after we left the Snyder family get together in Franklin, NC.
As we were driving back on Hwy. 441, towards Cherokee, NC, the full moon of December was just clearing the mountains. It was not quite dark yet, so the sky was a purple color, just beyond lavender. As we pulled into Cherokee, the moon had become iridescent against the deepening midnight blue. Mars shown clearly in its' place conjunct the moon.
Cherokee at Christmas time is probably one of the most magical and spiritual places on earth- the only traffic is local, the lights around the old part of downtown Cherokee twinkle in a timeless silence as the Oconaluftee river flows steadily through the town. This is a memory of Christmas past for me.
As we started up the mountain, the kids were asleep in the back seat, and hubby and I chatted absently. There is a place on the road on the NC side where you can see the lights of Cherokee in the distance, somehow breathtaking and reassuring at the same time. And as we reached the top of Newfound Gap, traffic picked up a bit from folks taking time for the moment as we were.
Suddenly, a gust of wind shook the van. Since we had had a big blow the night before over on our side of the mountain, I tend to pay attention when the wind speaks. And as we drove past the peak, I soon knew why.
Cars were slowing down and passing something on the road. I though that it had to be a bear or something, but I was surprised to see a man running along with a head lamp on his head and thumb held out, wearing camouflage clothing. And cars continued to pass by as we stopped to offer help. as it turned out, he was doing some 'extreme personal best' hiking and camping with a buddy and his buddy had hurt his leg up on the Clingman's dome road. This fellow had told his friend to get to the gate at Clingman's and he would get down to Sugarlands to pick up the car and come back up for his friend.
So, we made a place for him in our stuffed vehicle and started back down the road. As we talked to him, he told us he was an Air Force soldier stationed out of Ft. Campbell waiting to be deployed and he and his buddy were on the mountain for Christmas before being shipped out after the holidays. The kids all connected with him since they were closest to him in age and they talked about movies and popular cultural icons thay all had in common. I told him about my cousin Jonathan who did tours overseas and had been stationed out of Ft. Stuart, so he and I connected there as well.
Too soon we arrived at Sugarlands and in those 20 minutes, all of us in the van received a gift greater that any worldly item could ever be. In 20 minutes, we all found a heart connection with someone we did not know and helped them to help someone else. In 20 minutes, I felt what it was like to have a son who was being sent overseas to a conflict from which he might not return and connected with all the mothers who have had to face that situation. And at the end of those 20 minutes, we still did not know his name of where he was from, but it doesn't matter.
As we left him in the parking lot, he tried to give hubby some gas money, which he refused- he did give the young soldier his business card and I told the soldier to send us post cards from where he goes. Then we left Sugarlands and the dance was over.
I feel sad that we live in a world where a soldier in need keeps getting passed by vehicles because of the fear we now have of each other. I feel honored to have been given the greatest gift I have ever received, and to have had the time, even though it was only 20 minutes, to share our family stories with someone who was not home for Christmas.
WE ARE THANKFUL FOR THE TIME WE HAVE BEEN GIVEN