Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas Story in Costa Rica

"A cheerful heart is good medicine...." Proverbs 17:22



It was Christmas Eve, 1985.  I had been living in Costa Rica for four months.  It was a big change, leaving our small rural church in Pennsylvania and moving to a new country with our three young children for a year of language study.  Costa Rica is an exciting place to live, a beautiful and diverse country.  So even in the midst of studies we were living wonderful  days of adventure and discovery.  One can travel from the Atlantic to Pacific in just hours, and we visited both coasts several times.  We saw our first volcanoes, traveled high mountain road with breath-taking views and rode trains that carried us through valleys of green and up steep inclines. We spent endless hours on busses and explored canals by boat.  We watched artisans at work and walked through churches and basilicas.

There were times, however, when I longed for home and friends.  Sundays were especially hard for me as I missed our church in Pennsylvania and the people there.  And now Christmas was upon us as well.  This would be our first time away from all that we knew, all that was familiar.  It helped that my sister Dawn had flown in to be with us.  But there was still a feeling of disconnect, that Christmas wouldn't be the same.

We never quite figured out how, but we were able to get WGN out of Chicago on our little black and white television each day.  It was a lifeline for me, getting stateside news and watching Cubs games.  And then in the evening, without warning,  the signal would change over to HBO.  Someone in the area obviously had a satellite and we were reaping the benefits of that signal.


It was late Christmas Eve, the kids were sleeping and the little black and white had already switched over for the evening.  A Christmas movie was coming on so I stretched out on the couch to see what was playing. It was new, one I'd never seen.   It was a magical tale about a boy in Indiana who conspires to have Santa bring him an official Red Ryder Carbine-action Two-Hundred-shot range model air rifle for Christmas.  I was riveted to the set, never moving but  laughing more than I had laughed for a very long time.  I laughed through every scene:  From Ralphie's father fighting the irrepressible furnace to obsessing over the long-legged table lamp,  the infamous stick your tongue to the flagpole scene,  Christmas morning with Ralphie in the pink bunny suit to the neighborhood dogs eating the family turkey and finally culminating with dinner in a Chinese restaurant eating duck. And as the film ends with Ralphie and his younger brother Randy snuggled in for the night, their parents settled comfortably on their couch with tree lights glowing and snow falling,  I cried.
 

I'm still not sure why it affected me as it did, but it met a special need on that Christmas Eve night 25 years ago.  Somehow I felt different afterwards,  happy to be where I was, spending the holidays in Costa Rica with my family.  And as I continue the tradition of  watching "Christmas Story" again this year, I will remember that place and time, laughing during the same scenes and feeling that catch in my throat as the closing credits come across the screen. 

Right after Christmas last year I was browsing through the ornaments at an area Hallmark store and was delighted to find a spectacled Ralphie in a pink bunny suit.  I carried my treasure home and packed it away with the other Christmas stuff.   So naturally as I began pulling out the ornaments this year,  I laughed out loud when I found him among the decorations.  I had forgotten about this special find and couldn't wait to put him in a place of honor. And that's where he hangs, top and center on the tree, reminding me of that night when I needed to laugh.


We're told in Proverbs that a cheerful heart is good medicine.  I'm so glad God created me with the ability to laugh.  Even the spasmodic dysphonia, the voice disorder that at times prevents me from talking or singing, that loves to stop the words and music from leaving my throat, can not stifle my laughter.  When I am especially discouraged or frustrated over my condition, laughter not only frees my voice, but it does something in my spirit.  After all,  what is more healing, more cleansing than a laugh that comes from the belly?

Mark Twain said "Humor is mankind's greatest blessing."  He may have been on to something.  I don't know if it's the greatest, but it's definitely a gift.  And one that I am most grateful for.    
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