I am at my sister’s house. Our families are having an early Christmas. Kids are running around barefoot. Music is playing. Family pictures are everywhere. Chocolates. Cookies. Meatballs. My mother roasted some some nuts. My wife cooked fifty pounds of egg casserole.
I see an old picture of myself on a side table. I am maybe four years old in the photo. God, I looked like a little goober. Thankfully, I am all grown up now and have blossomed into a much bigger goober.
On my sister’s Christmas tree hangs a homemade ornament. I made this ornament when I was in preschool. My mother sees me looking at it. She smiles because she is happy to have her family in one place today.
She says, “My cup runneth over.”
Which is a cheesy phrase I never really understood. When someone says this, it means they’re supposedly happy. But if my cup were runnething all over the place, I’d tell the bartender to bring me a new one.
I remember the first Christmas after my father died when I was a child. There were no overflowing cups. Nobody felt like celebrating. Still, somehow my mother managed to put up a tree.
This felt pointless. Why? That was my main question. Who gave a rip about Christmas when we weren’t sure what was going to happen to our family? My father had just removed himself from the world. We were a local charity case.
Don’t get me wrong, people are very nice when you go through something bad. But people can only be so nice without getting weird. After a while, you’re tired of weird people.
All you want is for everything to go back to the way it was. You want your dead father to burst through the door and say, “Surprise! I’m alive! It was all a joke!”
But getting back to my story. On this particular Christmas, my mother attempted to go all out. It was the whole enchilada. She bought presents and shoved them under our plastic tree. She had scented candles and Christmas music. I’m sure there was even figgy pudding around somewhere.
On Christmas morning, I was holed up in my room. Back then, all I did was read Superman comic books because at the time—I think I already clarified this—I was a goober.
My mother called me downstairs. I staggered into the den with a bad attitude. I saw my mother and sister sitting cross-legged before our tree.
“Let’s open presents!” my mother said, trying a little too hard to be happy, smiling like an escaped lunatic. “It’ll be fun!”
When we divided gifts, I realized my mother didn’t have a single gift for herself. This was because nobody bought her anything that year. That had always been Daddy’s job.
So we opened gifts. My baby sister got mostly babydoll junk. Then it was my turn. The first package I opened was heavy. Maybe two pounds. I tore the paper to find a ceramic Superman sculpture, tall, intricately painted, and the coolest thing I had ever seen. It came from the department store. And it was expensive.
I started crying. I just lost it. It was the kind of crying where you fall down on the floor and press your face into the carpet. Then my mother started crying, too. Then, in a moment of deep emotion, my baby sister said, “I gotta pee.”
My mother said, “Then go pee! You don’t have to announce it to the world!”
So my sister ran into the bathroom and peed with the door open so that we could all hear firsthand what very healthy bladders sound like.
“Shut the door!” my mother shouted. “That’s loud!”
That’s when our crying turned into gut-busting laughter. The kind of laughter where snot comes out and you can’t catch your breath. And my sister came marching back, tugging up her pants, saying, “What’s so funny?”
Later that night, I sat in my bedroom. I couldn’t quit looking at the statue beneath my desk lamp. Superman was perfect. The Man of Steel. He was part man, part other. He could endure anything without ever getting sad. He could walk through walls, fly above Earth and all its troubles. Why couldn’t I be like that?
I used markers and construction paper to make my mother a small Christmas card. It was all I could come up with at the last minute. I gave it to her and it felt like the stupidest gift in the world. Because it was.
That night, I found her sitting by the window, listening to music. The sound of the Cambridge Singers and Orchestra was on the radio. We sat together. She pet my hair. We listened to “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” And it was the worst Christmas of our entire lives. I’ve never had a worse one.
And you’re probably wondering why I’m telling you about it. Well, I’m starting to wonder why, too.
Maybe because sometimes you get sucked backward in time by old photographs. And on holidays like today, you’re reminded that nothing lasts forever. Not youth, not happiness, not sadness, not health, not even people who once seemed so alive.
But this “this-ness.” Whatever “this” is. This moment. The cheesy holiday music. Kisses from a child. Stale ginger cookies. The little ornament you made in preschool. The hugs from your five-foot-tall mother. The twinkly lights. Or a ceramic Superman statues that still sits on your desk, even to this day.
Well, it just makes my cup runneth all over the place.
grantburris - December 24, 2019 7:03 am
You tell a good story, Sean.
Sharon Brock - December 24, 2019 7:50 am
Merry Christmas Sean and Jamie, and to your Mom. I wish you many more years of “cup runneth over”.
Karen Greatrix - December 24, 2019 7:50 am
Thank you, you have just made my cup run over.
MermaidGrammy - December 24, 2019 9:16 am
GaryD - December 24, 2019 10:31 am
Merry Christmas everyone 🎄🎅🏻🎁🙏🏻
Glenda Hulbert - December 24, 2019 10:53 am
Touched my heart, thank you❤️
pete - December 24, 2019 11:47 am
60 YEAR OLD MARINE. CRYING. THANKS.
Karen - December 24, 2019 11:51 am
Anyone who has ever survived grief and loss will relate to this story. Thank you, and Merry Christmas.
Kelly Wynne - December 24, 2019 12:34 pm
So very true! Absolutely perfect way to start my Christmas Eve! Thank you, Sean 🎄❤️
June Batchelor - December 24, 2019 12:37 pm
Thank you and Merry Christmas to all your family. You do have a way with words that is awesome. I enjoy every story. You get to my heart strings this morning.
Cheryl G - December 24, 2019 12:53 pm
Thanks for entertaining me every morning with your joy and wit and tenderness. You are a good storyteller!
Jenn - December 24, 2019 12:55 pm
I love the term, though I wonder if my kids are as bemused by it as you were. for me it is when I am together again with my two out of the house kids and they are having a conversation only they would have about calculus or politics or even how silly it is that I got them a jigsaw puzzle to put together at Christmas. Thanks for the reminder, they aren’t with me this Christmas, but just the memories make my cup runneth over.
Frank - December 24, 2019 12:55 pm
For a guy who had been told so many times that he had “no talent,” you’ve certainly become a blessing to many of us.
Merry Christmas, Sean and Jamie.
Deborah (Debbie) Gillespie - December 24, 2019 1:01 pm
Good morning, Sean. When I open my email each morning, yours is one of the first I look for. Each read is a delight or a heartbreaker – usually both. We can all relate to bittersweet memories and the “this” moments that remind us how blessed we truly are and that our cups do, indeed, overflow. By the way, that’s not some cheesy phrase…it’s straight from God’s own heart. I’m sure you’ve read or recited it thousands of times from the 23rd Psalm. I like the Good News Translation: “You prepare a banquet for me, where all my enemies can see me; you welcome me as an honored guest and fill my cup to the brim.” Ps. 23:5
May you and all those you hold most dear have a wonderful day celebrating the birth of Emmanuel-God with us. May your cups overflow with joy as you sing “Happy Birthday, Jesus!”
Peg Young - December 24, 2019 1:13 pm
Always a great story – Thank you Sean, and Merry Christmas to you and yours!
Harriet - December 24, 2019 1:18 pm
Loved that story. 😁
Lita - December 24, 2019 1:25 pm
Love and thanks.
Kat - December 24, 2019 1:38 pm
💕Keep preaching it, Sean! 💕And the angels sang, “ Glory to God in the highest …!”💕Wishing you all s a most Blessed Christmas !💕
Katherine Smith - December 24, 2019 2:29 pm
“My father had removed himself from the world.”
As someone who attempted, without success, to “remove myself” I promise you that my misguided intention was to make my loved ones lives easier ~ without the burden I felt I was. My hope is that I am not the first one who shared this with you.
Sandi. - December 24, 2019 2:38 pm
Have a blessed Christmas, Sean and Jamie!
Edna Barron - December 24, 2019 2:45 pm
Pogo and I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas. Hugs, Edna B.
Marge - December 24, 2019 2:46 pm
Tears are flowing, but my heart is filled with love – for you, Sean! This is my third Christmas without my husband of 57 years and your story rings so true! My family does try to “fill in the gap” and they do it wonderfully. You helped me realize that all 57 years of “forever” are tucked in my old head and I can bring them out just by reading words written by a kid from the panhandle!!! Thank you, kiddo…you’ve done it again!
Berryman Mary M - December 24, 2019 2:49 pm
You nailed it, Sean. You described perfectly what the first Christmas after the death (cancer) of my husband was like. Even though my sons were 30 and 23, it still hurts them so much. Thanks for your story today. Tears are bittersweet after almost 11 years. And very healing. Both of my sons are with me today and my cup does indeed runneth over.
Donna - December 24, 2019 2:56 pm
Once again, you made me laugh, you made me cry. Merry Christmas Sean❣
Donna - December 24, 2019 2:59 pm
A bonus read to Sean’s post, Merry Christmas to you and yours!
that's jack - December 24, 2019 3:35 pm
A very good Christmas story. I thank God I cannot match it. Thanks for the memories you pull out though. The times I did not get mama (or daddy) a present. I wish I had at least made an ornament.
Enjoyed the visit. MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOUR AND YOURS, including the dog….
Martha Young - December 24, 2019 3:43 pm
No matter what, life must go on and so must we. Still trying to understand that after 84 years.
Jan - December 24, 2019 4:20 pm
What a beautiful story filled with life in all its glory and sadness! Thank you!
aleathia nicholson - December 24, 2019 4:27 pm
Well, we’re off quarantine and I’ve got back spasms from sitting in my apt. minus any exercise due to being…..oh crap…thanks for painkillers and being still 82 yrs. old and able to read minus snotting up due to you and that statue after all these years… MERRY MERRY !
Patricia Compton - December 24, 2019 4:31 pm
Thanks for the sweet memories….Merry Christmas and keep writing your wonderful memories
Marthajane Cassidey - December 24, 2019 4:41 pm
My brother died this week. He had been on dialysis for 15 years, but it still seemed like a sudden death. We will have our regular family Christmas, but without Johnny. He was a grouchy old curmudgeon, but we loved him anyway. He is the first of my siblings to die, my younger brother who I used to fight with until he outgrew me. We cleaned out his room at Assisted Living yesterday. It was a sad day, and tomorrow is Christmas. God Bless you Sean, for your column and for your compassion.
Linda Moon - December 24, 2019 5:05 pm
My mother often said, “My cup runneth over”. She also often worried that her family would become a local charity and forced to live in the projects. Many years later….now….my own family is pretty good at turning sorrow into laughter. But, some sorrows just can’t become laughter. I know and love another five-foot-tall mother of two small children who experienced “that” Christmas, like yours. The children are now grown-up. They sometimes laugh at lots of “this”, but never “that” which happened 15 years ago. I know why you are telling us about this now, Sean. Tell it as often as you need to. I, your reader, will always be here to “listen”.
Sara Gwynn Brackett - December 24, 2019 7:21 pm
Almost every time I say, Boy THAT WAS THE BEST…..( I’m a new reader so don’t get too pumped up) But this one, I cried even more 2nd time I read it…..that means ITBWAS THE BEST! Thanks, New Best Friend….sgb
Susan Gregory - December 24, 2019 7:36 pm
Luv it! Even when Satan tries to blind me and it looks empty…my cup runneth over.
Annette chandler - December 24, 2019 9:25 pm
Thank you for helping us reach back in time to laugh, to cry, and to remember we aren’t alone. You have become such a blessing for so many of us that can’t put in words the things that flow from you. Thank you and Merry Christmas!
BeBlue - December 24, 2019 11:24 pm
Sean, I read your column literally as I was opening a box that nearly was left accidentally after I sold my house last month. In it was a 1942 letter from a dear uncle before he developed what we now call severe PTSD from missions as a radio navigator over Europe during the war. Another was a 1945 postcard to my Father who was on assignment in North Carolina from my Mother who was at their home station in California. The letter spoke of her drive from there to Iowa on retreaded tires (one shredded in Oklahoma City) with my 3 year old and 6 month old sisters to visit her family in Iowa several months after her Mother passed. Rationed gasoline meant there was no good way to get back for the funeral. The neighbors donated their coupons so she could make that trip. >>> All that filled in some details I didn’t know or didn’t really understand when I heard the stories that were rarely shared. >> This Christmas present from the past from those whose cups were close to empty to me after all these years makes me realize my cup really does runneth over (even if it didn’t involve open door peeing…) ;>) One of the best Christmases ever. Best wishes for a Merry Christmas to you.
Vivien Chambers - December 25, 2019 4:41 am
Beautiful sentiments. I love your writings and reminiscing. It seems you missed a very important point about Christmas. Though not on this earth, we can have eternal life because Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for our sins. I hope you know this. A very blessed Christmas to you and your family Sean.
Bkr - December 25, 2019 4:46 am
Sean. Merry Christmas. And Merry Christmas to Jamie too. You guys are the best.