Think about Christmas. Christ wasn't born in the winter. According to biblical scholars, he was most likely born sometime in late August. We celebrate his birth at the passing of the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, because out of the darkness comes light and the miracle of hope. Even in our increasingly non-Christian society, the appeal of Christmas, of lighting our way out of the darkness, remains.
And so for years now, I've rejoiced in the dark days that precede Christmas. I've sat out in the snow and wondered, how 2000 years later, the weather seems to paint the perfect landscape for the birth of Jesus. The sparkle of Christmas lights on the freshly fallen snow stirs up magical images of that first night, and the star that lead the shepherds to the stable. There is glory in the idea that hope comes, not in the flash of lightning or the movement of great powers, but in the simple, miraculous birth of a child in a manger. And that one life, however short, can make a difference.
Last weekend after we put up our Christmas tree, we sat and watched one of my very favourite Christmas programs, "A Charlie Brown's Christmas". My thoughts turned to David, an incredible young man who also loved Charlie Brown.
David was only nine years old when he was diagnosed with cancer. At first the doctors were very optimistic. His parents were told that his particular cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, responded well to chemotherapy. But each round of therapy brought more bad news, and the doctors at Sick Kids in Toronto began running out of treatment options.
While we all prayed for a miracle to save David's life, the true miracle of this tragic tale was David himself. When he was first diagnosed, his main concern was that he would miss the auditions for his school presentation of "Your a Good Man, Charlie Brown". David convinced the teacher directing the play to delay the auditions until his first round of chemo was complete so that he could have a crack at the role of Linus. Not only did he get the part, but his performance stole the show. A talented artist, David whiled away the hours in hospital by drawing the poster to promote the play's performances. That year for Halloween, instead of trying to hide his bald head and pale complexion, David celebrated it and went out trick or treating as a ghoul.
Throughout the course of his treatment, David endured countless indignities, pain and trips to the hospital with grace and courage. Along the way he and his family won the hearts and minds of everyone who heard David's story. David's battle brought the hopes and fears of all the years together in one valiant fight. It was in the darkest days before Christmas that David's light shone its fiercest.
It seems inconceivable to me that David lost his courageous battle almost ten years ago. After bringing so much light to so many people, it was strangely fitting that David left this world not in the winter, but on the eve of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. He died before the sun went down, in that eternal twilight that is endless summer. We should all have as much style and grace as that little boy possessed in his short but magnificent life.
That year, and every year since, David's gift to me has been the lesson that there is joy even in pain and that each one of us can touch the lives of those around us in the most profound of ways. The miracle that we celebrate every year at this time is the reminder that even on the darkest and coldest nights of the year there is magic and wonder in the birth of every child, and that each and every one of us can make a difference.
In the words of David's favorite cartoonist, Charles M. Schultz, "And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."
Looking for a special gift for the person on your list who has everything? The Sick Kids Foundation's "Tribute Recognition Funds," can be established in honor (or in memory) of others. Tributes in David Schneider's memory can be sent to the "New Agents and Innovative Therapies Fund". For more information, visit