Once upon a time I ordered a large county pine table with two carvers and six chairs to be delivered just in time for Christmas. The year was 2001. My Christmas calendar was filling up fast with family and friends booked in for all over the Christmas period. The day before Christmas Eve the furniture still hadn’t arrived. I was just thinking about calling the company when the phone rang. It was the furniture man. They had just received the delivery from England but there was a problem with the chairs. Only four arrived in transit. To alleviate the problem he could offer me a different table and chairs or he could lend me some chairs to do me over Christmas. All of a sudden I wanted to alleviate his head of his shoulders. I went into a rant about how inconvenient, untimely and incompetent the situation was until I realised no one was fighting back. There was nothing but silence. “Are you still there?” I barked. “I am,” the man answered, in a quiet, strong and unwavering voice. “I know it will not be perfect but the people sitting on the chairs will be much more important than the actually chairs.” His words silenced me. I wasn’t happy but something in his voice made me opt for borrowed chairs.
On Christmas Eve the furniture arrived. When I answered the door the man had a great big grin on his face. He did not make any reference to my anger but set about bringing in the furniture. I noticed he was limping and although I was still disappointed and annoyed, I tried to act normal so I offered to help. Something about his demeanour left me curious. When he was finished the man advised me that he would be in touch again, as soon as the rest of my order arrived. Feeling a tad guilty, I offered him a cup of tea as a peace offering. He laughed and said coffee would be great.
On the borrowed chairs, with a hot mug of coffee warming his hands, he told me about the fire. His heart break. How he attempted to save them. All of them. His wife. His three beautiful daughters. He saved one, the one that now needs numerous operations, skin grafts and twenty-four hour care, the one that sits in pain with him beside a set of empty chairs at Christmas time. He told me about his accident, how he lost half of his leg, how he was going to lose the other half. Looking up to heaven he laughed and said, ‘He can come and take the rest of me if he so wishes…we are only here on borrowed time anyway.” My eyes filled up with tears. He gave me an nudge and said, “Don’t know what you’re blubbering about, at least you’re gona get your chairs!” He made me laugh and cry and laugh all over again. His sense of humour, his wit and his courage filled the room.
Every Christmas Eve I light a candle for the furniture man, for making me listen, for making me sit up straight on a borrowed chair and take notice of what really matters. This year I will light my tenth Christmas candle for him and for all who have lost loved ones, who have lost hope, who have lost their way during the year. Let’s hope we have the courage and insight of the furniture man. May I take this opportunity to wish you all a Christmas full of blessings and peace. Until next time, Aileen
© Aileen McGee