Friday

19 by 25 on Christmas Day

It’s a wonderful Christmas morning. The tree is still beautiful, even with torn wrapping paper and opened boxes scattered amidst some still-unwrapped presents intended for friends who haven’t yet arrived.

As things settled down, I wandered to the kitchen table with my coffee cup in hand, to read the morning newspaper, with Johnny Mathis and others singing in the background. The music isn’t my day-off morning ritual, but the paper is. It only took me a few minutes to see what I didn’t expect on Christmas Day.

This was never part of Christmas before, at least not that I know of.

As I sat down, I separated the paper by sections as I always do, pulling out the sports section and the want ad section to set them aside for later reading, after my customary read of the front sections. But I never read the front section. Separating the paper, that was when I saw a different section.

I counted. 19 pages. 25 listings or so on a page. The smell of the eggs and ham my wife was cooking on the stove top began to fill the kitchen but I couldn’t put this section of the paper aside. Something made me ignore the rest of the paper and start to read just this section. I had seen this section of the paper before, but never bothered to look at it. This was Christmas morning and it was just “different.”

The entire section was foreclosure notices by the sheriff of the auction sale next month. 19 pages. 25 or so on a page. About 500 homes. But they aren’t homes anymore though. Just houses. Each one was probably someone’s hope once. A dream gone bad.

I wondered how many families still lived in some of them this Christmas morning, waiting out the last few days before they, too, had to leave.

I wondered how many homes were empty already, from families that couldn’t stand the thought of staying any longer in a hopeless situation. I wondered how many of the homes weren’t home to anyone at all now. Just empty houses.

Taylor Swift sang a Christmas song in the background as I turned the page. And then another. I no longer smelled the eggs and ham cooking as I thought of all the big shot suited-up politicians I had seen on the evening television news this last year, blaming each other for the layoffs and lousy economy. But those 19 page made me realize that it didn’t really matter how we got here.

One sheriff’s sale. 19 by 25. It meant 500 homes just in my county alone. On Christmas Day, it bothered me. Homes that aren’t anymore. How many children lived in them? How many mothers and fathers have cried from the shame of their faultless failure? And even if there was fault for any failure, that really didn’t matter either. Foreclosure changes lives.

In a world of million dollar athletes and multi million dollar penthouses, this is not the Christmas I thought I would grow up to. It just never occurred to me that foreclosures would become such a natural part of America. Or that homeless would be so very real for those so very young.

We shouldn’t lose dreams in America. And the Christmas Day newspaper shouldn’t have 19 pages of foreclosed homes up for auction. It shouldn’t. But it does.

So what do we do? I don’t know but I’m smart enough to know that I’m not smart enough to have an answer for this big problem. I hope someone does.

For now, I’ll continue doing some volunteer work, donating to church, and putting all the loose change I get at the register into whatever “give a little” charity cup is nearby. I know it’s not much, but it’s kind of like just trying to help out in the smaller world that I walk and live in. It’s the reason I never walk by someone wanting a hand out anymore. I used to. But that was before I could see their faces.

Maybe if we all did a few little things like that, things would get better. I don’t know that for sure either though. But I do know one thing.

19 pages, by 25, is very sad. And sad just doesn’t seem like it should be part of Christmas Day.