It was Christmas Eve—Annie’s first Christmas working at a new job, supporting people with developmental disabilities. It was great to have the job and she loved it, but on this particular night she was feeling disappointed. At her last job with another agency, she had worked over Christmas. It would have been her turn to get this one off, but here she was again, the rookie, and working the shift everyone wanted off. Her husband and kids had gone to family in Quebec, leaving her behind in Ontario. She felt very sorry for herself.
A hush always descends on group homes on Christmas Eve. People fortunate enough to have family go home but there are always people left behind. The group home may be their home, but they aren’t fooled; “going home” means going to where family and friends are. People feel it keenly at Christmas when they don’t have family that can take them home. Even staffing is minimal, to give as many people as possible the chance to be with their families.
Edith, one of the women at the home that night was small, elderly and stooped. She had a mental illness as well as a developmental delay and she could make an eight hour shift an exercise in endurance.
Edith said that she wanted to go for a van ride to look at the Christmas lights. The night had grown very cold, so Annie took a blanket along to bundle her up. As they walked to the van, the snow squeaked beneath their feet and their breath hung in the cold night air like smoky streamers.
There was no traffic on the streets; all was quiet. Annie turned on the radio to listen to Christmas carols while they toured the neighbourhood. From the bundle of blankets beside Annie, Edith began to sing, her voice thin and reedy. She was singing Silent Night, Holy Night. Surprised, Annie turned off the radio so that she could listen--she had no idea that Edith could sing. Her voice wasn’t beautiful, but there was a vulnerability and childlike innocence in it and she had the song word-perfect.
A dreamy look was in Edith’s eyes as she finished singing, but she wasn’t done. She launched into a welcome--to a congregation that only she could see--a welcome to the Christmas concert. Annie listened. She sensed that she was in for a treat.
Edith proceeded to preach a sermon about a man and his dog. They lived on a farm and the man had a dog and the dog would bark in the barnyard. The man would yell at the dog but the dog would keep on barking. Then one day someone came to the farm and told the man that if he would be nice to the dog the next time the dog was barking, the dog would stop barking.
So the next time the dog was barking, the man spoke softly to the dog and patted his head, and the dog stopped barking. And that, said Edith, is how Jesus teaches us to be kind to each other.
Annie’s eyes filled with tears. She knew that she would never forget this night. Suddenly she didn’t mind working, in fact she would not have missed these moments and the opportunity to hear Edith’s unexpected sermon for the entire world. As she drove along, Edith was quiet now, snuggled deep in her blanket. The lights twinkled on lawns and eaves and through the windows. All was still…It was a holy night--and Annie wondered if Edith was an angel--Until the next day, that is!
By Belinda Burston (who heard this true story from “Annie” and who loved “Edith” very much)