Camels, Katie Couric, and the Meaning of Christmas

The week before Christmas in 2005, my mother, my sister and I took my niece to New York. It was her 10th birthday, and my first trip to the city.

Because we would be coming in from different places, I had planned to meet them at our hotel. I flew in on December 19, the day before the Transport Workers Union went on strike, bringing subway and bus service to a screeching halt. Even though the TWU walkout was not yet official, a limited strike of two bus lines had already begun, essentially derailing my itinerary. I made my way from La Guardia to Grand Central Station, but once there, ended up stuck with no real backup plan.

After a cold and anxiously long wait, I finally found an available, though quite pricey taxi to the Financial District where we were staying, and met my family.

Parts of this trip were like scenes from every Christmas movie ever set in New York City. We shopped on Fifth Avenue, we enjoyed rich, frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity, and had our picture taken in front of the tree at Rockefeller Center, a million lights twinkling just over our cold shoulders.

On the flip side, we may or may not have hidden in the back room of a shady shop in a part of town that dabbles in the sales of designer knockoff bags. We may or may not have convinced our less-than-graceful mother that for her Christmas present we had gotten her a private lesson on the ice of the world famous rink at Rockefeller – and her skating partner would be Katie Couric. Our mom may or may not have called security on me and my sister in our suite late one night, as we laughed uproariously, jumping on the beds, after drinking margaritas served in fish bowls at the hotel bar.   

In actuality, our mom’s gift that year was tickets for great seats to see the annual Radio City Christmas Spectacular. We were all so excited to see the Rockettes – and even more so amidst the festivity and holiday spirit of Christmastime in New York City.

Just seconds into the opening number, as the curtain drew up, something looked… odd. Off. The Rockettes weren’t in tune – in time – with each other. They were looking around, not ahead, and not in unison. And then, the fire alarm started blaring in the auditorium. And it was not a drill.

A fire – one we later learned was small and contained to a storage closet  forced thousands of people in the audience, along with the Rockettes, Santa, and even the animals, out into the 20 degree afternoon air. We, of course, decided to use the unfortunate and unplanned event to our advantage, and walked around getting pictures taken in front of NYFD trucks, standing with scantily-clad performers, and trying to pet the camels.

Once the fire was put out, and the excitement died down, we returned to our warm seats to watch the Rockettes Christmas show. It was, indeed, spectacular.

Towards the end of the event, perhaps it was even the last scene, a giant screen dropped down and a story was projected onto it for the audience to read. It was beautiful, breathtaking, and thought-provoking. I sat, in awe, reading it over and over again. I was delighted to find it, in its entirety, typed out on the pages of my souvenir program.

For years the piece stuck with me. I looked around online to find it, but I never knew the name, and couldn’t remember the words, only the way it made me feel.

This morning I unpacked boxes of decorations, ornaments, and keepsakes from holidays past. Buried between stockings and Styrofoam packing peanuts and broken pieces of silver beaded garland, I came across my copy of the Radio City Entertainment Headliner from December 2005. The right hand corner of the booklet was torn off. It was folded open between two pages. Page 7 was in shreds, the names of the cast and credits ripped from the slick paper. On page 6 was the story that – without ever mentioning mangers or wise men, reindeer or sleigh bells, Santa, or even Mary – meant Christmas to me.

 

One Solitary Life      

 

He was born in an obscure village,

the child of a peasant woman.

He grew up in another obscure village,

where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty.

Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.

He never had a family or owned a home.

He never set foot inside a big city.

He never traveled more than two hundred miles from the place He was born.

He never wrote a book, or held an office.

He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness.

 

While He was still a young man,

the tide of popular opinion turned against Him.

His friends deserted Him.

He was turned over to His enemies,

and went through the mockery of a trial.

He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.

While He was dying, His executioners

gambled for the only piece of property He had – His coat.

When He was dead, He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave.

 

Over two thousand years have passed,

and today He is the central figure for much of the human race.

All the armies that ever marched and all the navies that ever sailed

and all the parliaments that ever sat

and all the kings that ever reigned,

put together, have not affected the life

of man upon this earth as powerfully as this

“One Solitary Life.”

 

 

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