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Choose to see the wonder

December 23, 2018

As a child, I frequently ended up in New Britain General Hospital because of asthma attacks. The treatment back then took a few days and involved an oxygen tent. One year, when I had just turned 7, this happened at Christmas time.

I clearly remember a nurse belting out “Jingle Bell Rock” in the hallway. It was the first time I heard that song and its bouncy beat lifted away the loneliness of being apart from my family. Ever since, “Jingle Bell Rock” has been my favorite Christmas song, no matter how tacky that might sound to “Silent Night” fans.

By Christmas Eve that year I could breathe normally again. Time to go home. But mom didn’t have her driver’s license in those days, and we couldn’t have afforded two cars anyway, so after dad finished work in the evening he went home to get mom and my two younger sisters and they all came to the hospital for me.

Here’s the moment our family would recount over and over again through the years: As we waited for the elevator — sister Cindy not quite 5 and Audrey only 2 — the doors slid open and suddenly out stepped Santa Claus! Cindy’s mouth gaped open and she stared up at him in amazement. Santa was here! He was right here.

I don’t remember what Santa said. Probably something like he would visit our house later when we were asleep.

On the car ride home, to Plainville the next town over, the holiday lights decorating homes twinkled brightly. Contentment enveloped us girls in the backseat like a furry blanket.

What Santa left under the tree the next morning is lost to the distant past. But the image of a little girl’s wonder remains as shiny as tinsel on a green bough.

When the holiday bustle and endless lists and not enough time for cookie baking and search for the perfect gifts get overwhelming, I try to put it all on pause and — even if briefly — recall the wonder.

Truly, it is all around us.

On Christmas Eve of 1968 the Apollo 8 crew orbited the moon 10 times, the first humans to travel beyond low Earth orbit. But it is their look back toward home that became most memorable. Their photograph of Earthrise, as seen from a moon perspective, was the first time anyone saw the whole of the planet we inhabit — a brilliant blue sphere with swirls of white clouds.

“Before that, earth images were essentially maps of the continents and oceans or grainy satellite images in black and white,” my brother-in-law Andy Smith wrote to us last week. “This gave all of us a view of our whole world for the first time, from a vantage that most of us will never experience.”

Andy, a connoisseur of the cosmos, sent us an ornament of that Earthrise image for our tree. He was a 9-year-old boy in upstate New York, one of an estimated half billion people watching the 8:40 p.m. televised greeting from Apollo 8 that Christmas Eve 50 years ago.

“I did not then and do not now understand the full complexity and the mystery of the message, but I recognize it now as the awestruck feelings of three humans who could see all of humanity on a single blue and white ball surrounded by vastness beyond any we have seen before,” Andy wrote to us.

“They rode in a space ship with the name of a mythical god, they read from Old Testament scriptures to a world of many faiths, they relayed a simple message and wish, we’re in this place together, the good earth, “good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas....”

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jacqueline Smith at jsmith@hearstmediact.com.

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