The first 13 years of my life were a time of chaos and confusion. It was the 60’s, people were experimenting with ideas,creating utopian visions for future society. My mother had met a man, taken me from my father, and ran off to join a commune. Because we were hiding from my father, they had changed my name, kept me out of school, and we lived pretty much in isolation.There were no TV’s, no telephones, and I was discouraged from having contact with people, least I forget my new name or give away any secrets. More than anything else in the world I wanted to be “normal.” I wanted to go to school, to have family gatherings, to celebrate holidays. My family were hardcore atheists, so we didn’t do Christmas, birthdays, Easter. Ironically most of these holidays have pagan roots, but my parents perceived them as Christian indoctrination, something they were bound and determined to protect me from.
We were in the mountains at this time and for the most part I ran pretty wild in the woods. It was breathtakingly beautiful, moss hanging from the trees, salamanders, pools of water to float boats on. I had treasure hunts, walked on logs, slid down hills covered in leaves.
Every few miles there were vacation homes, places were families gathered. I would peek in the windows and watch people. Sometimes they would invite me to play with their kids, to eat with them. I was very good at making up stories about my family, attempting to explain why this random kid had just popped out of the woods and joined their picnic. I was a good liar.
One winter when there were a couple of inches of snow on the ground, this house that had been empty for a while suddenly had signs of life in it. I peeked in and saw a family around a Christmas tree. There were drinking cocoa, singing, putting up decorations. I’d never seen anything like it and instantly I was in tears. They saw me and came running out. I must have looked like a waif out in the snow. I was never properly dressed for the weather and there I was crying, no doubt with leaves in my hair. I had attracted attention which was a big no no in my family. I had been told over and over again that we were at risk of some do-gooder stepping in and calling the authorities. It wasn’t easy to lie myself away from their concern, but I gave a rather imaginative story about being Jewish and never having celebrated Christmas. I told them my mother was having a hard pregnancy which was true at the time, and I pretended that I had slipped out to play in the snow while she was napping. They let me sit by the fire, gave me cocoa, and explained to me what Christmas was all about. As I was leaving they handed me a present, a little box of Story time Lifesavers.
That little box of Lifesavers literally saved my life. That family has no idea what that gift meant, how it gave me back hope, how it helped me to believe in the goodness of people. That one small act of kindness changed the entire course of my life. It’s something that defies words, but my spirit made a choice that day.
I hear a lot about how Christians are hypocrites, I read about people wounded by the church, but that has never been my own experience. I have nothing but fond memories of the Christians I crossed paths with as a child. Lifesavers, all of them.
To this day, forty years later, I still buy Storybook Lifesavers at Christmastime in honor of that family
who never even knew my real name. They taught me that people care and that God is good. That’s a priceless gift that I still hold close to my heart. But for the grace of God and that 29 cent box of Lifesavers, I wouldn’t be who I am today.