"Today is a good day. It is the day when the promise of a newborn star touches the heart and soul of every believer in Jesus, Mankind, Christmas and Life. It is wonderful that during such a season, even people who don't particularly like each other, are, for a few days at least, prepared to put their disputes and dislike to one side. If only every day could herald that extraordinary amount of good will and conciliation, the world would be a more peaceful place.
I spent part of yesterday at the hospital. I had three facial biopsies six weeks ago and was asked to return for the test results yesterday. I had been told earlier that skin cancer contracted by people with my terminal condition cannot be treated in 80 percent of occasions. The results were as favourable as they possibly could have been, given my blood cancer condition, and the skin cancer I have can be treated in the New year. This news was Christmas cheer to my ears and allows me to enter this festive season with the gratitude of a happy man.
This lunch time, Sheila and I am meeting up with my sisters, brothers and their families at a pub in Liversedge. This is an annual event that we all try to attend and even though one hour maximum in a crowded place is the maximum time recommended for me, it will be nice to meet up and exchange cards, presents and stories of old. When we meet up, most of the talk is about growing up together in the 50s and 60s, and the eccentricities of our parents and practices of the times.
The one thing about being both the oldest or youngest in a large family of siblings is that your experience of similar events shared means different things to each of you. For instance, being the eldest child of seven, when I went off to Canada at the age of 21 years, it was my mother's tears that I remember looking out of the frosty window as she waved 'goodbye', whereas, I didn't see the tears of my youngest sister, 7-year-old Susan, stood beside her, who was losing her big brother whom she might never see again. While I made a success of my life and took it in my stride, I often overlooked what it meant for my three other brothers to constantly be in my shadow. I don't care what others believe, but I know, as do my siblings, that it makes a great deal of difference where one is born within the family hierarchy. I also know that the three eldest children to my parents had a much different experience growing up than my four youngest siblings. Whereas me, Mary and Eileen grew up during the years when mum and dad still had much love and passion for each other, by the time that the two youngest were born, Michael and Susan, my parents' marital relationship had lost all its gloss and involved regular rows and disagreements. In some ways, it could be said that we grew up, not only in different times but in different families, to the same parents of changing dispositions.
When I wake up tomorrow, I won't need to look beneath the Christmas tree for my finest presents. They are Sheila, my loving wife and soul mate and my six brothers and sisters. When my mother lived, she often said, 'Billy, when your dad and me die, they'll be no money to share out, only bills, but we will leave you something precious, your brothers and sisters. Look after them and they'll look after you.' Mum was right. My siblings were the greatest inheritance they could ever have left me, along with the knowledge of being told every day of my growing years by mum that, 'I was loved'.
As I attend Midnight Mass with Sheila, I will try to hold on to this feeling of gratitude for the God who made me and the family I grew up with, my gratitude to my wife and soul mate, my gratitude for my good friends and neighbours, my gratitude of yet another Christmas reprieve I received yesterday from the hospital, and my eternal gratitude for being alive during this most holy of seasons. How wonderful it would be if only I was able to feel like I do about my brothers and sisters with every person I ever met; if only I could come to regard and treat all as brothers and sisters without a second thought! Merry Christmas everyone. May it be peaceful and filled with love and generosity. Bill x" December 24th, 2016.