A Christmas Story

Posted by Dr. El - December 22, 2009 - Anecdotes - 7 Comments

I sat with George, a retired zookeeper, a few weeks into our sessions for his depression. His slim frame barely filled the small wheelchair. In his button-down sweater he looked like an elderly, diminutive

Mr. Rogers, but without enthusiasm for the world. He missed the zoo animals, he’d confided last week. They were his best friends and the closest thing he’d had to family.

“Do you have any hobbies?”

“I used to like to read, but I can’t see so well any more.” He threw up his hands in despair.
“Really?” I was surprised at this. George had seemed a simple man. “What kind of books do you like?”
“My favorite author is O. Henry.”
“O. Henry! Didn’t he write short stories? What was his most famous one? The one about Christmas?”
“The Gift of the Magi.”
The following week I arrived with the book of short stories I’d found at The Strand bookstore. I’d vowed not to read anything but murder mysteries for five years after graduate school in order to compensate for years of tedious psychological research papers, but I was about to break my vow.
We sat in his warm room, while the snow fell heavily outside his window. As I opened the book, I saw an eagerness in George’s face that had been missing in our previous sessions. I began to read and the story transported us to Christmas in a different time. I glanced up occasionally and saw that George was hanging on every word. I felt a sense of therapeutic satisfaction. All was well until, engrossed in the tale, I began to cry.
“Oh no!” George burst into tears. “I made you cry! I’m sorry! Stop reading, stop reading!”
“It’s okay, George. It’s okay.” I tried to pull myself together. “It’s the story that made me cry. That’s because it’s so well-written, it’s supposed to make us cry. Let me finish reading it.”
“No, no, I don’t want you to cry.”
“George, I want to cry over a good story. Let’s keep reading and cry together.” I fished some rumpled tissues out of my pocket, handed him one, and wiped my eyes. “Here we go.”
We sobbed as I read, stopping occasionally when emotions overtook me. We finished the story and looked at each other with red eyes.
“Wow. That was really good.” I tossed my sodden tissue into the wastepaper basket near my feet.
“Yes, it was. Even though we cried. Will you read to me again next week?”
“Absolutely. And I’ll be sure to bring more tissues.”