Sometime near the end of the year l980 it was my unchosen duty to help watch over the long decline of seven year old Lizabeth Sterling during her unstoppable Hodgins Disease. As children are, by nature, optimistic and hopeful, she was surrounded daily by her family, her friends and the medical staff. She was encouraged by all these in her upward tending spirit. Children are also, by nature, clairvoyant in a way not open sometimes to adult sensibilities. She knew! No one told her, no one attempted to prepare her, she simply knew she was dying. It was she, seven years old, who brought me into the world of her dying. One day, without warning or hesitation, she asked me what it would be like to die. Her asking wasn't shaded by fear, she simply wanted to know what lay ahead. So we talked about those things that come naturally in such a conversation, God, family, joy, life, and going on to a new life. I held her hand, she watched me to be sure I was being honest with her, and she asked, "Do you think they will have clean sheets for me there?" The question obviously came from the daily condition of her bed with IV's, blood, catheter and more. I said, "Lizabeth, the sheets done in the laundry of heaven are always white as snow." On the day of her death her family asked if new linen could be placed on her bed before she was taken up from it.
Such is the form and nature of our human community. It is always the wanting of newness, the release from oldness that permeates all of Christmas. There is a cleanness somehow buried in the carols and readings and prayers of the Christmas season and we are eager to have our children, our husbands and wives, our family and friends, experience this. I would like to feel no one is excluded by their own inflexibility from what is offered by all the season's presents. The thing about wanting life to be good and hopeful and renewing is that it's always, forever, already good and hopeful and renewing. To feel all this in our spirits we may sometimes need to change the linen. Christmas is not only a season, a holiday, a date on the calendar, it is real when we recognize what is already good and hopeful. No, I can't come and do your laundry. I can do the next best thing. I can point you to a laundromat. For all appearances you might mistake it for a manger.