A river of ink has been spilled about the true meaning of Christmas. Call me corny, but I am about to add to it. This is why: My granddaughter, Stella, 7, who is the love of my life and who has Down syndrome, needed to go to the Univeristy of Iowa Hospital, two hours away, last week to see a pediatric specialist. I was babysitting her little brother for the day. Decked out in shocking pink and light-up sneakers, with her carrot-colored hair braided to a fare thee well and her favorite stuffed doggy in a matching pink carrying case, Stella wasn’t as excited as she usually would be to set forth with her parents. That was because she was going to see The Doctor, where bad things have been known to happen, and because her brother was going with me to ride the Christmas train at the mall. (Five times, as it turned out. I’m just a gran who can’t say no.)
No one was hurt, but about an hour out on the interstate, the little family’s compact car was sideswiped by a semi driver who didn’t stop. My son, who gives people the benefit of the doubt and then some, thinks the driver may not have heard the horn or seen the bumper fly off as the car swerved wildly to the shoulder of the road. He was of course frantic about the welfare of his wife and child, and probably the most perilous moment was when he got out of the car on the driver’s side right after the accident to check on Stella. She was startled, but not frightened -- and likely more upset by seeing her father so shaken than by the accident itself.
Unlike other drivers who saw them and figured – as I probably would have -- that in this day of cell phones, the family could easily summon help, a couple of good Samaritans stopped as in days of old. Jolly sisters on their way to Christmas shop at the outlet mall a half hour away, they served as witnesses to a trooper. Meanwhile they sheltered Stella and her mother – always calm and steady in a crisis, and in fact any time -- in their vehicle as debris swirled around it on this raw and wind-whipped day. They even waited as a tow truck was arranged and then drove the family with them to the mall. Meanwhile, my son had alerted his sister, who lives nearby, and who drove over with her baby to help with logistics.
They tried to make the doctor’s appointment, scheduled way in advance, but it didn’t work out – the X-rays were in the totaled car. For my son, this looked like the very definition of the day I used to read to him about in Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. (Alexander woke up with gum in his hair, his best friend deserted him, and then there were lima beans for dinner and kissing on TV). His family had come close to catastrophe, more time would elapse before learning more about Stella’s health issue, he had wasted a day off work, and his car – paid for --was toast.
Stella, however, was having a wonderful, marvelous, all good, no bad day. Somehow she got the notion it was somebody’s birthday. Not only did she get to ride in a strange car with two swell new friends and see her baby cousin and aunts on both sides of the family (her mother’s sister came from the other direction to transport the travelers home), but she was also granted a reprieve from The Doctor. By the time they regrouped at a pizza parlor, she was chanting “party!” and singing the Happy Birthday song. May she always treat adversities as adventures and give and receive great kindnesses, thus keeping Christmas forever in her innocent heart.
This article originally appeared in the Telegraph Herald newspaper December 10, 2011.