Leukemia and the Christmas Tree at The Grove
by Lillibeth Navarro, CALIF Executive Director and Founder Ok, so between the 80s and 90s, I was too busy with life to listen to music. I just knew it was there and celebrities like the Back Street Boys, Michael Bolton, Melanie Fiona were just words being thrown around and well, yes—their music was so omnipresent it found its way to me, like smoke that invades the whole space. Oh I love music and it always reached my ears as balm to my soul. Recently with American Idol, there’s Scottie McCreery, Philip Philips, etc.—I’m a little more familiar with them given my young sisters and nieces coming and going to my home. Oh and these days, Colbie Caillet, Far East Movement and their big hit—“Christmas in Downtown LA!” Wow, last night, despite 4 hours of sleep, I had to take my family to church and the tree lighting ceremony at the Grove! Our bunch was a group of all ages, from the two Titas: Tita Zeny and Tita Vi who I call “the Menorah Widows”, to the two Victorias—Marivic and Vic-Vic to Katrina and me. We were reluctantly clad already in winter wear because we knew it was going to be freezing. Our plan to window shop, stay at the bookstore, get coffee and wait for the event was hard to implement as the shops were closing early and even the theatres were closed. The only alternative were the Farmers’ Market and its surrounding businesses. But darkness fell on us quickly and so did the cold. The crowds were thick and already people were angling for the best seat in the open theater but the notion of waiting for hours in one spot was boring so we took a chance at roaming some more, get coffee outside the Grove and dash back in at least an hour and a half before curtain call. Despite the bitter coffee, we decided to stay with the coffee shop and decided to make it better by loading up on popcorn and nuts. When the church bells chimed the 6 o’clock hour, we headed back and boy was it almost impossible to get through! The farthest we got was in front of a large screen TV behind Santa’s Workshop. We thought ourselves lucky to still secure a spot but waited another hour and 45 minutes. Feeling trapped, I looked up to see the man-made decorations—the glitter, the lights while around me were crowds of heads bent down on their cell phones texting and surfing it seemed. As the minutes turned to half-hours and on and on, I realized how truly devoted this sea of humanity is to community events like this. On the surface, no matter what faith tradition you were coming from, you really could celebrate Christmas or the Holidays as the secular world defines it, from the momentous lighting of the Giving Tree which happily they still called, “Christmas Tree”! I could not see the real Christmas tree at the center which was waiting to be lighted but above me was a huge silver star which, for some reason, touched me to tremendous feelings of hope! There was a lot of activity around me—couples talking and hugging each other in the cold, girls taking endless pictures, grandmas chatting, little children playing or fidgeting and a majority of people busy with their cell phones. I did my own cell phone app and then the mike testing started. We saw a lot of behind-the-scenes work captured on camera and Mario Lopez prepping for his work. And then the show started to thunderous applause! My niece Katrina, the youngest in our group was jumping up and down. She knew just about every song rendered by the Back Street Boys! She was dancing and singing, the most expressive of the bunch. In the meantime, I made friends with a Central American couple to my left, a young 10-year old African American boy on my right who was an incredible dancer himself! He held a cell phone too and kept texting his cousin in-between dancing. He liked our spot as we were right in the front row. The security officer made sure we moved closer to the TV screen and said he was giving us the best spots from our corner of the Grove. Even as we heard everything loud and clear, we knew that the TV screen was the best substitute to being personally close to the stage itself. But we were a heartbeat away from these live performers. And if one were to gauge the level of excitement between those in our crowd seeing things from a TV screen and those who were there personally, there did not seem to be much of a difference. I could tell from the Katrina’s glowing joy. I myself was mesmerized by all the performers and then the poignant moment before the lighting of the tree was started by a generous donation to a young girl with leukemia who was given the privilege to push the button to light the tree. As the tree was lit, the fireworks display began, as if to say to humanity that indeed—the tree lighting needs to happen first in the dark—the experience of pain and human suffering—leukemia. Human need triggers the lighting of human thoughtfulness. The tree adorned by trimmings and decorations of human generosity and goodwill lights up with all forms of beautiful expressions of giving. The fireworks display heralds hope to a dark world that draws attention to all possibilities of a bright tomorrow! Then snow started gently falling on us as though to say that it blankets all of life’s ugly side… and jolly old Santa came out with his sleigh of gifts to represent the celestial Father in Heaven who loves and gives gifts particular to every person in his or her situation! Perhaps the TV monitor capturing the actual show we could not get very close to was another test of faith that proved beyond any doubt that our hearts were already afire with Christmas enthusiasm. We did not need to be very close to the stage to touch the reality—it was already in our midst. Merry Christmas indeed!