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The Last Dream

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By DEREK BECHER

Sixty-two Christmases he spent alone, after the year that his parents died, leaving him as an orphan. Each Christmas passed like just another day, another page falling endlessly from the calendar of his life. And all the while, in the privacy of his mind and his weakening heart, he hoped for something more, wished for something better.
But with no family and nary a friend, he found it difficult to be touched by the wonder of the Christmas season, unable to even imagine how it would feel to spend the holidays with love.
And so, with Christmas morning again less than twelve hours away, and his life’s days now surely numbered, he arranged the loose papers to best find comfort on the hard wooden bench in the cold and the dark of this Christmas Eve, in the lonely, barren park he now calls home. The shoppers no longer hurried by on the nearby walks, and the silence began to beat in his mind. A cool numbing breeze swept through the tears in his ragged clothes, and the rhythm of his chattering teeth slowly dragged him into a deep, wintry sleep. . . .
He awoke in the comfort of a warm covered bed that he shared with his loving wife, so beautiful as always, but even more so in sleep, in the glow of the morning sun. He followed the rays through the window outside where he noticed that snow had provided a new fresh blanket for the ground and gave pretty jackets to the tall spruce trees stretching up the hills, into the mountains.
Downstairs he could hear his children giggling in excitement about the gifts they would receive this night from dear St. Nicholas.
After letting them nibble on hot buns with tasty sweet frosting, he took his little angels aboard his sleigh, drawn by his large black stallion, ever strong and sure, through the hills and into the forest where the smell of sweet, wet pine filled his lungs.
And in a clearing, showered by the sun’s golden rays, they found the perfect tree, her boughs plentiful and voluminous, which they brought home to decorate in merriment with the sounds of celebration and laughter filling their home. And just below her glorious branches, they gently placed the figures of their heirloom manger scene, glowing now in the twinkling lights of their wondrous tree.
Soon afterward, they gathered their toques, mittens, and skates and strolled to the nearby frozen pond, which for years had provided him with many afternoons of familial joy and song. Together they skated and cheered for a long time into the late afternoon, until the light of the moon slowly emerged among the glistening stars. White crystals descended from the sky as they made their way home, half the way skipping, all the way singing!
Once home, upon entry, he paused as the aroma of his wife’s wonderful cooking emanated from the kitchen. And there they gathered in thanks, enjoying a wonderful meal that made every taste bud dance with glee at the succulence of each tiny morsel. With a prayer following pudding, they gathered around the tree.
And there, as always before, he read to his children the story of Christmas with the solemn melody of Silent Night playing softly behind, and he watched as their glittering eyes beamed with amazement.
Outside, pretty snowflakes swayed back and forth, swinging lightly to the ground, providing a winter blanket in the cold. Inside, warm from the heat of the flames dancing in the fireplace in synch with the crackle of logs below the neatly placed stockings, they smiled and began singing traditional carols that told of family and togetherness at Christmas, and of the hope brought by the birth of Jesus in a lowly manger in Bethlehem.
And all the while he saw the wonder in the bright smiles of his beautiful children, and he felt the love in the eyes of his lovely, caring wife.
A feeling of peace shivered throughout his body, for he knew that the love of his family experienced in such cherished moments together, the warmth of his beautifully decorated home, and the joy of the peace and hope of Christmas provided him with the true meaning of his favorite season. So content on this holiest of evenings, he smiled, fulfilled, and sighed heavily. . . .
This would be his last breath. The aging man, lonely and despaired, cold on the solitary park bench, passed away on the 24th of December as he had spent so many others — alone. He had known none of these feelings, these blessings he had somehow dreamed so lovingly of on his last Christmas Eve, for he never had a wife to love, a family to cherish, or a house to call home.
But on this final holy night, alone beneath the Star of David, he received a gift that will carry him peacefully through eternity.
(© Derek Becher)

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