The day was dreary, but the rain was needed. The quiet, cold rain slipped down the floor-to-ceiling windows of the Meadow Lakes Retirement Community in Omaha. Dr. Robinson Leary. Retired black professor from Creighton University sat bent over Table 12, pen in hand, finishing her Christmas cards. A cup of cold coffee sat beside her stack of cards.
“Gotcha!” The voice came from behind her as strong hands grabbed her shoulders. Robbie jumped in her seat, dropped her pen and laughed. Marge Aaron was standing behind her rubbing the shoulders she had just squeezed.
Hadley Joy Morris-Whitfield and Mary Rose McGill followed Marge into the empty dining room. Mary Rose took one look at Robbie’s coffee cup, dumped it in the sink, and hurried to the huge coffee machine. She grabbed a tray, filled three cups and brought a coffee pot full back to the table. As soon as she set the tray down, she refilled Robbie’s cup and the three others.
Robbie moved her pen near her cards, picked up her cup and took a sip, nodding her thanks to Mary Rose. She leaned back in her chair and smiled at her friends who had taken their usual seats at the table.
“I’ve been pontificating to myself,” she said.
Mary Rose raised her eyebrows.
“It means speaking in an arrogant way,” Robbie explained. Mary Rose and Marge both nodded. Hadley did a mini eye roll.
“I had a note from a friend saying how she was insisting all her friends say, ‘Merry Christmas’ instead of ‘Happy Holidays.’”
They looked at her. Robbie was the professor and she often ‘pontificated’ for them. They were quiet. They knew she would continue.
“See,” Robbie said, “Holiday, as you know, means Holy Day. And here’s what I think.” She took a longer sip of coffee. “I personally believe there is a God, and just one God.” She looked around at them. They were interested.
“That one God,” Robbie went on, “is a God of many names and a God of all religions, no matter what the religion is called. And when I say, ‘Happy Holidays’ I think of beautiful Holy Days around the world; the seven beautiful candles in the Jewish Menorah, the Christian advent candles, and my own colorful seven candles of Kwanzaa.”
Robbie had shared some of her African American ancestry and traditions with the girls.
She looked at them and smiled. “I don’t know much about Asian religions,” she said.
But I do know about the Hindu Diwali, which is so much like our Thanksgiving and a beautiful Holy Day. I have great respect for my friends who faithfully observe Ramadan, and that’s not easy!”
“So you’re sticking with Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas,” Marge observed.
“Both,” Robbie said. “To some folks I give a Merry Christmas.” She sighed. “If I insist on only one, I feel like the Pharisee who thanked God he was better than the poor man who was asking for forgiveness for his sins.”
“And” Mary Rose added, “I remind myself sometimes that God loved the Pharisee as well as the poor man.”
They all nodded.
“That ain’t all,” Robbie said with a grin. “Some people don’t like to admit it, but the greenery – tree included – brought inside, our wreaths on the door, were Pagan customs, including gift-giving and caroling.”
“I do it best,” Hadley said in her best Pharisee voice. “When I write my greetings I say, Holly Happy Days.”
She poured more coffee. “And best of all,” she added, “God bless us every one.”
They nodded again. It was going to be a good Holy Day.
A WORD FROM JOY
I am saddened by the animosity between religions. In my growing-up years in a small town in Iowa, the division was between Catholic and Protestant. My mother had a strong dislike and very little knowledge about her Catholic neighbors.
I don’t blame Mom. There was no education and no teaching from the pulpits either.
Every year my father, who was a great man, took me Christmas shopping for Mother. I could pick out anything I wanted to give her.
The year I turned seven, we went into the local furniture store, and I saw the most beautiful picture. It was of a lovely lady in blue with a heart on her chest.
I loved it.
And Mother loved it.
It was big and it hung at the foot of our staircase for almost twenty years. We had a big house and Mother rented out our rooms upstairs. Very often the renters were there for a few nights while a family member was in the old hospital across the street.
After I had grown up and left home, I returned once, and a huge mirror hung where the pretty lady had lived for years.
Mother had rented a room to a hospital visitor – a lovely lady. The lady had come down the stairs and seen the picture. “Oh, Mrs. Millard,” she smiled, “I see you are Catholic.”
“Oh, no! I’m not!” Mother exclaimed.
“But you have a picture of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart,” Mother’s guest said.
That afternoon Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, so loved for years, made a quick trip to the garbage can.