By Joanne Padley
On a quiet, cold, winter night I was doing my rounds, walking the building, checking for anything that might be amiss in the senior citizens apartment building where I work as a night security guard. All was calm and peaceful as I moved silently through the building, stopping occasionally to admire the holiday decorations on the display shelves outside each apartment in the hallways.
There were glittering Christmas scenes with miniature figures gliding on tiny, mirrored ponds of ice, colorful menorahs, majestic porcelain angels covered in lace, minuscule Christmas trees with tiny presents beneath them and bowls of colored candies and confections for friends and visitors alike to take as they passed by. Some residents really decked the halls, while others decorated more simply, obviously being of the belief that less is more.
Although it was late at night, I happened upon an elderly gentleman and his middle-aged son cleaning his shelf off to get it ready for the seasonal display. The son brought out a beautiful Nativity set, piece by piece. The resident held each piece lovingly and proudly explained to me that his now deceased wife had painted them years ago.
“They are beautiful,” I said, and quietly stood back to watch the scene unfold. The elderly gentleman was on a mission, and was very specific about where each piece was to be placed.
“The animals need to be closest to baby Jesus,” he explained, “so they can watch over him. They were there first!”
His very patient son smiled and winked at me as he placed each piece carefully where his father told him it belonged. He made the mistake of putting the three wise men too close to the baby, and his father quickly moved them back to the outskirts of the scene.
“That’s not where they go,” he told his son. “They arrived last. They can’t be in front of the animals.”
Again, the son and I shared a private smile, and he obediently placed the rest of the figures where his father preferred them. I bid the two gentlemen goodnight, and quietly continued on my rounds, feeling as if I had just witnessed something very special, but not quite knowing what.
As I walked around, it occurred to me that I had perhaps witnessed the true meaning of Christmas in that little setting up of the Nativity set. The father was being ever so careful to preserve the work of his beloved wife, all the while making sure that the scene accurately portrayed the simple beauty and significance of a baby born in a manger and heralded as a king.
The son displayed love in its purest form, patiently helping and guiding his frail father, and understanding the importance of this Nativity set to him.
Before I left for the night, I went back to take a look at how it had all unfolded. Some of the figurines were in a slightly different place, and I presumed the father had deferred to some of his son’s suggestions about how they would look best.
Looking at the Nativity scene, I felt engulfed by a trinity of love: a husband’s love and pride in his wife, a son’s love and patience for his father, and a father’s love for his son, displayed in his willingness to compromise in the placement.
What a quiet night of wonder it was in a place where magic and wonder become even more evident during the holiday season. I walked outside and the sounds of Christmas music filled the air as I did my final walkaround, making sure all were safe and accounted for on this magical winter night.
Joanne Padley works at the University at Buffalo as well as Asbury Pointe senior citizens apartment complex in Getzville.