Sunday, July 14, 2013
The Gift of “The Visit of the Tomten”
(c)July 2013 Linda Goodman
Even after I accepted the idea that personal stories could be healing, I continued to believe that claims about the healing power of traditional tales were “new age hocus pocus.” The following story changed my mind and made me a true believer in the healing power of all story genres.
Just a few weeks after my granddaughter Morgan was born, I arrived at my daughter Melanie's house to find a frantic note tacked to her front door.
“Mom, I'm at the hospital!” it read. “Something's wrong with Morgan!”
I had a key to the house, so I let myself in and took a seat in the living room. I knew that Morgan had had a routine doctor's appointment scheduled for that afternoon, but I had not expected her to be hospitalized. My mind immediately did what it always does: it rushed to worst case scenario. Was she seriously ill? What was going to happen? How would my daughter handle a crisis? How would I handle it?
After a few hours, my daughter and my son-in-law returned. Melanie, her face white and drawn, was holding Morgan in her arms. I was given the news that Morgan had been born with a cataract in her right eye. Only immediate surgery would save her from blindness. Morgan would go “under the knife” at 8:00 a.m. the following morning. Other surgeries would most likely follow.
A cataract? I wanted to do my happy dance! I had been expecting something life-threatening, like a tumor or a heart problem. Compared to what I had expected, a cataract was good news! I knew several older people who had had cataracts removed and were just fine afterwards.
I later found out that cataracts are much more serious for infants than they are for older folks. We were lucky. Morgan had a cataract in only one eye. Most infants who are born with them have them in both eyes. Also, in infants cataracts are usually accompanied by some degree of mental retardation or a physical malady. Morgan seemed mentally and physically fine. Medical data showed, though, that eighty-five per cent of infants born with cataracts developed glaucoma. For Morgan, the jury was still out on that.
After Morgan's surgery, my son-in-law had to leave for an out of town trip. Melanie brought Morgan to my house to recuperate. On her first night there, I came downstairs after doing the dinner dishes to find Melanie sobbing uncontrollably as she rocked Morgan in the over-stuffed rocking chair in our family room.
“What's wrong, Honey,” I asked her (as if I did not already know).
“Mama,” she cried, “I did everything right! I ate healthy food. I didn't drink any caffeine or consume any alcohol while I was pregnant. I have friends who were doing drugs or drinking every day during their pregnancies, and their babies are fine! Why did this have to happen to my baby?”
For one of only a few times in my life, I was at a loss for words. I had no answers for her.
That night, as I said my prayers, I asked that God might somehow comfort my daughter. As soon as that prayer was uttered, I saw a vivid image in my head of a red paperback book, written by Barry L. Johnson, titled The Visit of the Tomten.
The Visit of the Tomten is set on Christmas Eve in a barn in the Smaland Highlands of Sweden. There, four animals wait for the Christmas gifts that the Tomten will bring them. The more they talk about the gifts they hope to receive, the more excited they get.
The Tomten is a Swedish good-luck elf who delivers Christmas gifts. Every farm has one. To repay the Tomten for his kindness, the farmer's wife leaves a bowl of porridge in the barn for him. Come Christmas morning, if the porridge is gone, the New Year will be a good one.
The animals do not get the gifts that they expected. Ivan, the old dog considered to be the sage of the barnyard, is given a bird with a broken wing. “I don't even like birds!” Ivan rants, “and this one isn't even right!
The animals respond with an vengeful plan: they will kidnap the Tomten when he comes back for the porridge, and they will demand that he give them an explanation for the ridiculous gifts they were given.
The plan is executed and the Tomten is trapped. He is aghast that the animals do not appreciate the gifts he left them! There is no such thing as a ridiculous gift, he insists.
He then goes on to explain the purpose of each gift. To Ivan, he says, “To be asked to take care of the handicapped is no insult. On the contrary, it is a great honor. I chose you to care for the disadvantaged bird because I trusted in your wisdom and courage to give it the very best life it could have.”
I could hardly wait for Melanie to wake up the next morning. I knew exactly what to say to her. When she came down to breakfast, I pulled her aside and said, “Melanie, it's like this - God looked at all the thousands of babies waiting to be born and saw that Morgan had a special problem that would require a special kind of love. So he searched all the expectant mothers, looking for that one mother who could give Morgan the very best life she could have... He chose you.”
It was what she needed to hear. A smile slowly spread across her face as she looked down at her precious daughter. “You're right, Mama,” she whispered. “I love this baby so much, I wouldn't trade her for all the perfect babies in the world.”
Morgan will be 17 years old soon. She has had multiple surgeries on her eye and a few years ago she did develop glaucoma in it. She sees well enough to drive, and she is at the top of her class in school. She does not much care for the story of the Tomten, but that's okay. “Different strokes for different folks,” as they used to say in the 1960's. The story got me and her mama through a rough patch. We will treasure it always.
I bought this book because I was looking for a new story for my Christmas repertoire. After reading it, I decided not to tell it. The chemistry necessary between teller and story was not there. After I shared the story with Melanie, however, I found that it became a part of my story tapestry. The chemistry followed, and I now tell it often, particularly in my Storytelling in the Ministry workshops.
By the way, at the end of the story, the Tomten did not eat the porridge. Regardless, the ending was most satisfying.