Every year on Thanksgiving, usually running late (as we were this year), we drive to Clifton Station to meet up with the family, and head into the city to see the Philadelphia parade. The set-up is one in which the parking lot is on one side of the tracks, and the platform is on the other, so in order to get on the train from the lot, one must walk down the steps, under a short, little tunnel, and up the next flight of steps. Easy. 

Apparently, it was too easy for my dear better half, who coolly decided, after a mad dash to the platform, that, since the train was not barreling around the corner at that exact moment, he had enough time to go back for something that he had left in the car. It’s possible that the rest of the family, and the many other people standing on the platform at that time, would have agreed. I did not. My heart was in my throat, racing and pounding, as I stood there, wearing my tall turkey hat, watching him disappear into the shadow of the tunnel. 

Sure enough, as soon as I glanced upward, I saw the bright, shining headlight of the SEPTA train snaking up the tracks. Again, while others might chime in and say that it was still practically in another town and that there was plenty of time for him to retrieve his items and get back on the other side, I could picture nothing but the whole family waving to Sean from the train windows, as he stood sadly separated from us, while we carried out our annual tradition. Nevermind that Sean claims that he would have smiled wittingly, gone up to my dad’s house, helped himself to one of the hoagies and taken a nap on the couch. 

No, in my heart, I was certain that he would have shared my devastation; so, enveloped in that fear at the sight of the train, and seeing Sean in the lot across the tracks (a mere 80 diagonal feet away from us), I screamed at the top of my lungs, “Seaaaaaaannnn! …. It’s heeeeeeeere!... Oh, no! … Seaaaaaaaan! The train is here!” Only at that moment did I recapture the presence of mind to remember those many other people, who had been standing next to us in complete silence that early Thanksgiving morning. As I turned to face the crowd, every eyeball was on me and my hat, my dad shook his head and laughed and my darling teenaged children seethed, glaring at me with contempt. Sean took a leisurely stroll back to the train, and we boarded easily, but I could not control my laughter for half the ride into the city. 

Once we arrived at the parade, that hat was instrumental in helping me meet people on the street, especially since Jaime and Kate gave me a gift of huge, blinking, red Christmas lightbulb earrings, which added a remarkable flair to the look. In the end, a small group of people visiting from France approached me, and in their lovely accents, commented, “You are in danger today, no? Everybody wants to eat you.” It was funny, and I appreciated the exchange with the visiting strangers. 

While I generally try to avoid making a spectacle of myself, I appreciate the way that visual surprises command our attention, allowing us to see things that we otherwise might have missed, or meet people that we otherwise might have passed by. At Christmas time, on a much grander and deeper scale, it gives me pause to wonder about the magnitude of awe and joy that must have rocked the world when a magnificent spectacle marked the place where Jesus was born. 

“When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” -Matthew 2:10 

May God bless you with joy and renewal this Advent season.