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Glen Allen, VA 23060

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Garth Callaghan

Napkin Notes Dad

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Reflections on Christmas

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The Napkin Notes Blog

Reflections on Christmas

WGarth Callaghan

Christmas time has come and gone, although I refuse to pack up the spirit on December 26. I hate how the world rushes to return to “normal” so soon after the calendar passing of Christmas.  What’s so great about “normal”? I’d much rather take the cozy feelings of family, good food, togetherness and goodwill than the rush of “normal”. I delay taking down the tree and the decorations, hoping to extend my internal holiday inspiration. I truly prefer to keep them up through January 6 while celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas and Epiphany. In fact, I just took down my personal Star Wars Christmas tree only because my wife, Lissa was starting to give it the evil eye. 

I had two genuinely special events happen this Christmastime.  It’s safe to say that Christmastime in the Callaghan household has been challenging for me in the past few years. You see, I have been diagnosed with cancer each of the past three autumns. My first diagnosis was treated through surgery and I was hospitalized until a couple of days before Christmas. I have had run ins with cancer in each of the two subsequent years, too. Cancer has occupied my thoughts and body and there was little room to feed the Christmas spirit, unfortunately. 

I had a doctor’s appointment on December 16 this year. We were meeting with a new oncologist, one who has a few clinical trials that are currently underway. I wasn’t looking forward this this meeting. I felt that I needed to travel to MD Anderson or Johns Hopkins to seek out treatment, but my wife insisted that we try. As our discussion with this new doctor progressed, I became quite excited. He was a warrior in spirit. I could tell he would fight for me and he had my best interests at heart. I left this appointment with hope.

As we arrived back home, there was something on our front porch. It looked like a grocery bag. It was, in fact, a grocery bag. There were no groceries to be seen. Instead, the bag contained presents. There were a few for each of us. The presents were labeled with tags indicating the recipient, but there was no indication of who left these for us. We had a secret Santa! Indeed, this was something that touched me at my core! I was taken aback with this act of generosity.  

My second Christmas experience started in November, when I first read about Alex Sheen and his social movement, Because I Said I Would. Taken from Alex’s website: Because I said I would is a social movement and nonprofit organization dedicated to bettering humanity through the power of a promise. You can click here to learn more. I was inspired by his actions and began to set my own promises. My first promise was to write out 826 Napkin Notes for Emma, one for each school day through high school graduation. Although I still plan on writing a daily Napkin Note for her, I wanted to have a backup in the event that I can’t write notes, or if I won’t be here to write the notes.  This was an emotional task which I am still finishing. 

How exactly did these two events intersect and impact me? The gifts were Christmas presents after all. The gift giver clearly knew our family. There were special items that were targeted to each family member, and even items for our dog! One of the seemingly small gifts had a symbolic meaning to me. I am not sure if the secret Santa meant to give this gift with a meaning, but I prefer to see it that way. The gift was a simple back scratcher. As I opened this gift, I started to think, “Someone is scratching my back. Someone ‘has my back.’” I was deeply touched and choose to believe the meaning I read into this gift.

Later in the day, I was telling my family about Alex Sheen and sharing his 2013 Because I Said I would video. Click here for the video. I kept pausing the video to share what I had read and seen over the past month. We had just finished the 4-minute video and my phone rang. I looked at the display and thought to myself, “I don’t know anyone in Ohio.” Well, as it turns out, it was Alex. I really couldn’t believe it! Not only did Alex want to chat with me about my promise, but he initiated the discussion on Christmas day! I actually cried. Lissa looked at Emma and said, “This was clearly daddy’s best Christmas present.”     

Christmas is a relationship holiday. It allows us to reclaim past relationships, strengthen current relationships, and forge new relationships. Sure, there can be stressful times with family members, estranged friends, or even God, but we need to get over ourselves and focus on elevating the value of our relationships. Human beings need to love and be loved. This is the perfect time of year to demonstrate your love. Thank you to my secret Santa and to Alex Sheen for this. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!