I tend to be an early riser. It's about 4:30 AM. The morning is unfolding the way they always do. Me and the dog are watching Sportscenter, waiting for the coffee to be done. In a minute I'll put on a coat and go outside to smoke the first cigarette of the day and feel the early morning chill. I love this time of day. It's quiet - without the distractions and "threats" that seem to be around every corner once the world wakes up. It's dark - so no one can see me and I don't have to look in their eyes to get some idea of what they think of me. But mostly, what I love about this time of day is that it's SAFE. It's the ONLY time of the day I feel TRULY SAFE. Secure in my isolation. Away from the "threats." Safe from being a possible "target." Safe from having to gauge everything I say or do so that I don't inadvertanently offend - safe from the pressure of having to do it right. For this time I can just exhale. Drink my coffee, smoke my cigarette, be with the dog. He loves me no matter what I do.

Last year around Christmas I was sitting out front of the office one day smoking a cigarette. Trying to grab some "isolation/safety" in the midst of the day. From the corner of my eye I saw a little girl coming home from school. She looked to be about 9 or 10. She was carrying a little gingerbread house - obviously a school project to be presented to Mom & Dad back home. I watched her carry that little gingerbread house with such PRIDE. Mostly likely thinking to herself "Look what I did! They're gonna LOVE IT! I know exactly where I'm gonna put it, so everybody can see it!!" This little girl was glowing with her prize and measuring every step, as if one misstep could cause her to drop her masterpiece. And then my mind created an image of a Mom or Dad - or Both - fussing over that little girl and her gingerbread house. Telling her how beautiful it is. Telling her how proud of her they were, and how talented she was. And I saw the smile on that little girl's face as she was being "fussed over." I don't know if this little girl wore braces, but in my vision she did. I saw a wide, shiny grin as she was being showered with the love, and pride, and encouragement every child is entitled to.

As I watched this little girl I started to cry. I didn't know why - I NEVER know why it seems. But I cried. And I felt sad. And I felt alone, which isn't necesarily unusual, but this loneliness felt "different" for some reason. A deeper brand of loneliness, more at my core it felt.

At my next session I told my Therapist about that little girl. And my reaction to her. We talked for a bit about that and then she gave me an assignment. I was to make a gingerbread house. For me. To be displayed or not - depending on what I wanted to do with it. But I was to make a gingerbread house. So I went to the store and looked for the "gingerbread house department." I'm 58 years old and have spent a lotta time in stores, but I can honestly say I've never noticed where there kept the gingerbread house kits!! Finally, I bring my kit home and make my little house. And for the first time in my life - at age 58 - I got to do something I wasn't allowed to do when I was small. Be proud of something I did. That I created. Quite frankly, it was difficult. It's not a gear that was put in me? Or it's one that has rusted together for lack of use? I guess I'll let my therapist figure that one out at a later time. But, as instructed, I take a picture of it with my phone and send it to my Therapist. Gotta let her know I did my homework! "Gee, I hope she likes it. I SO want her to think I'm a good 'student.'" She did. She said the wreath was "lovely." When I read those words on my phone I started to cry... And I didn't know why. But that's not unusual. That gingerbread house stayed on a shelf in my living room until sometime this past summer when it finally collapsed. Guess I'm gonna have to make another one this year. At least now I know where to find them in the store!

So I'm sitting here waiting for the coffe to be done. And I'm thinking of what the day holds in store. What do I need to "prepare" myself for. And it occurs to me that today is, again, going to be a day I've always dreamed of having. My 3 grand children are asleep upstairs. My son and his wife likewise. When everybody gets up we're going to see the tree in Rockefeller Square. See the lights, watch the window displays, hear the music, be in the crowd, SIT ON SANTA'S LAP. This promises to be a day like no other - one I dreamed of having as a kid - one that never came - and one I was beginning to think was never going to happen for me. I used to LOVE the lights - the music - the crowds - the sights and smells of Christmas. But I wasn't allowed to enjoy those things. So I wathed others enjoy them - either on TV or our neighbors. It became "safe" to watch the Holidays from afar. But today, I'm not gonna WATCH. I'm gonna LIVE my life. I'm gonna take my 3 grandchildren and we're gonna wait our turn, and the FOUR of us are gonna sit on Santa's lap and tell him what we want for Christmas.

And, at 58 years old, I will do what I was never allowed to do before. Sit on Santa's lap and tell him what I want for Christmas. Sitting here now wondering what I'm gonna say to him, there's only one thing I can think of to say.

"This."

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"Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength."

-Mahatma Gandhi