This is the fourth of my holiday-themed posts on the Christmas traditions of St. Anthony Messenger Press (SAMP) employees. Two more posts with their reflections will be coming soon. These stories are a gift from our family to yours.
Some Christmas customs we do just because we always do them. But others we really know why we do them. And some years, for instance, when loved ones are in the hospital, everything we do matters more.
Mark Lombard, director of product development at St. Anthony Messenger Press, commutes to Cincinnati twice a month, but lives in Florida with his wife, Mary Carty. Mark’s father, Nick, was so impressed by Mark’s tradition of having lit candles at every window and luminaria along the driveway on Christmas Eve that, the year before he died, he wanted to help set the luminaria up. When the couple lived on an island in Lake Champlain, Vermont, they put luminaria out along the entire road to their house, one every tenth of a mile.
Mark says he wants everyone who sees the luminaria to remember that Christ is the light of the world.
Mary and Mark light the candles from the first Sunday of Advent to Epiphany, but the luminaria only on Christmas Eve. The Lombards have two grown sons (Matt, soon to be 30, in Tennessee and Ryan, 35, in Vermont).
The managing editor of our book department, Katie Carroll, is the mother of four. In early November 2006, she got a call from her son, Kieran, serving with the U.S. Army’s fourth infantry division in Baghdad. “I’m fine,” he grunted amid sounds of shouts, explosions, and chaos. “I mean I’m not fine, but I’m alive.”
Roadside explosions from IEDs were as common as Seattle rain and she knew immediately what must have happened. It was days later when the army finally called with the formal announcement. “Your son has been very seriously injured.” Was it an IED? He couldn’t say. Would he live? He couldn’t say. Where was he? He couldn’t say, but “they usually send those guys up to Landstuhl.”
After a week of agonizing miscommunication and misinformation, Katie was able to meet up with her son at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. It was a time of waiting like none she’d known before. Kieran was one of dozens of patients in Ward 54; during her weeks there he was the only one she saw that had all his limbs. The fresh, young faces combined with the horrific combat wounds had the strange effect of making one imagine that a skateboard park had exploded, she remembers. These soldiers, these war-hardened veterans, were very young men—some still in their teens.
While she waited as round after round of antibiotics were ineffective against the filth infecting Kieran’s shattered leg, while she weighed the likelihood that a certain almond-shaped birthmark was taking its final bow, she gained a new appreciation for the pregnant waiting that is Advent.
The hospital cafeteria was decorated for Thanksgiving, then Christmas, and the kids joked about what they wanted Santa to bring. Game systems were popular on wish lists, but so were visits from Mom and letters from girlfriends.
“I know how lucky we are,” Katie says. “A lot of parents get that call…or worse. The weeks before Christmas will always make me mindful of that time, that waiting, and remind me to be grateful for the little things–like almond-shaped birthmarks.”
Kieran is still recovering, but he makes progress every day. “His doctors say that he can expect to have shrapnel pains when he’s 80,” she smiles. But she’s taking hope that “that means he’s going to be 80.”