A Holiday Letter from Dr. Kreutziger
Dr. Joseph Kreutziger

 

Dear StG Community,

As I looked out last Thursday night at the pews filled with over 400 people for our Lessons and Carols Service, a feeling of peace came over me. From the scripture readings to the performances of our Lower School students and Middle School Orff ensembles; from our first service at the church with our new rector of St. George’s, the Reverend Stephanie Fox; to our special faculty and staff recognitions and presentation of the Lelong Family Betsey King Award for Faculty Excellence—well, there was much to celebrate before Winter Break. It was truly a gift to be together, and I was able to take just a moment there to be present for it.

That thought was buoyed further because I knew that my own 18-year-old baby, Clara, was on a plane from Seattle, arriving any minute at Louis Armstrong Airport to be with us for Christmas. She’s a freshman, and it’s been admittedly hard not having her under the same roof as us, hard to accept sometimes when I pass by her bedroom in our house and see all of her belongings and furniture but know it’s empty of her presence.

Thursday night, this whole thought of Clara returning to New Orleans reminded me, actually, of Clara’s very first Christmas in New Orleans, when she’d just turned three and we were living in New York City and flying home to be with my parents and sister’s family for the holidays. We had such high hopes for the trip and were thinking this may be the very first Christmas she’d remember, her very first Christmas aware that the gifts under the tree came from Santa.

Well, things didn’t go as planned. There was a nasty stomach bug going around, Clara caught it, and she got it bad. So bad, in fact, that she couldn’t hold down food and water. She became so dehydrated that we had to go to the hospital Christmas Eve, and she spent that first Christmas in New Orleans at Ochsner Clinic’s pediatric unit, receiving fluids and hooked up to monitors. Our whole family’s plans and gatherings were upended, and we were understandably distraught. Clara didn’t seem to be getting better, and more and more doctors and nurses were giving her attention. She looked so pale, so lethargic and lifeless.

That was, until a child life specialist came to her room Christmas morning with a wrapped gift, one that we hadn’t purchased and didn’t know was coming. Clara sat up a bit, mustered the energy to open it, and lo and behold, it was an Ariel doll from The Little Mermaid! Clara was definitely going through a Disney phase then, and at that very moment, her very favorite movie, the one we’d have to replay again and again, was The Little Mermaid. Her eyes lit up, color returned to her cheeks, and for the first time in three days, she smiled.

That doll never left her the rest of her hospital stay, and even after she was released the next day, she never let that doll leave her side for a good three months. We were right about that being the first Christmas Clara would remember, and to this day, she still vividly recalls getting that Ariel doll in her hospital bed.

When I asked the child life specialist where the doll came from, she said a family had come by Christmas Eve and donated a bunch of toys they themselves had giftwrapped for all the children who had to spend Christmas in the hospital. The nurse had just randomly picked up the Ariel doll from the pile, not knowing what would be inside. Now who can say who guided her hand and prompted her to select the gift that would mean everything to our baby girl? It was as if Santa himself had delivered it to her, right down the hospital chimney that didn’t exist. This was our Christmas miracle, and we’ll never forget it.

The next Christmas we were in New Orleans, two years later, we paid it forward. Our entire New Orleans family, grandparents and cousins and all, went to the toy store (this was when there still were toy stores like Toys R US around!), selected a gift, went home and wrapped it, and then that Christmas Eve, delivered a basket full of wrapped toys to Ochsner Clinic’s pediatric unit.

I have no idea who the child was who received the gift I picked out and wrapped up—a set of Lincoln Logs that happened to be one of my favorite things to play with when I was a little boy—but I’d like to imagine that maybe, just maybe, a child opened it up that Christmas morning and it made him smile, and that he remembers it to this day.
 

You never know what small gifts you give will make the biggest difference.


“What, after all, is a Lessons and Carols service?” I asked myself as I looked out once more at all of our parents, faculty, and students congregated last Thursday eve. At that moment, our 8th graders were softly, rhythmically hammering at their Orff instruments, accompanying our 4th graders in “Sing, Lullaby” as a large smattering of cell phones lifted above the heads in the pews, dimly lit like lanterns. At a moment of distraction and curiosity the day before, I’d looked up the liturgical history of Lessons and Carols services, surprised to find that in the Anglican tradition, the service was only about a hundred years old, originating in 1918 when the Reverend Eric Milner-White, a former military chaplain who had served in WWI, wanted to create a ritualized service of hymn and scripture that, in its simple beauty, would restore faith to those who had lost it in the horrors of war. Milner-White had contemplated it as a gift to the city of Cambridge, one focused on “colour, warmth, and delight” in a dark time.

How lovely that Milner-White’s gift lived on in this evening we as a school community were spending together at the very church where the idea and origins of St. George’s Episcopal School emerged. Milner-White aimed at simplicity in the liturgical practice for his community gathered at King’s College, Cambridge, that Christmas Eve. Let me just be present and participate in this gift, this evening, I thought. Let us tonight focus on the small gestures, the small tokens of appreciation and recognition all happening right now between parent and child, student and teacher, classmate and colleague. One of them may be the favorite, most meaningful, most valuable gift we receive all year. Perhaps one of the most valuable of a lifetime.

This Christmas or Hanukkah, may the gifts of your life come home to you, and may the gifts that you give bring even more joy than the gifts you receive. They almost always are the best gifts of all.

Yours,
Joe

 

 

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