Ho bloody Ho

Michael Lynch had an interesting Christmas.

Toward the end of 1996, I received a telephone call from a rather distraught gentleman who I shall refer to as Santa Smith (not his real name). He had heard that I sometimes teach people how to have fun. He said he wanted to talk to me about a friend of his whose life, despite appearances, was not fun. I agreed to see him.

At the time appointed for our meeting I heard a rustling in my chimney and went to investigate. I was mildly surprised to find a soot covered elderly gentleman, dressed in an unusual red suit with dirty white trim, standing in my lounge. He had long white hair and a grayish white beard, and he was wearing sunglasses.

I offered him tea, but he said he would prefer some cookies and milk. I covered one of the chairs and invited him to make himself comfortable, and then I fetched what he had asked.

We chatted while he ate his snack. I sensed that he was checking me out, deciding whether or not it was safe for him to open up to me. Apparently I made a favorable impression because, when we turned our attention to the purpose of his visit, he dropped the pretense that he had come on behalf of a friend and indicated that the story he wanted to tell was his own. I asked him to begin wherever he wanted. He chose to begin at the very beginning.

He said he could not remember where or when he had been born, but he thought that he was very old, perhaps 200 or 300 years old, and he thought that he might have been born somewhere in Europe. He had no memories of ever having been a child. As far as he could recall he had always been an old man. And as far as he knew, he would always be an old man.

He paused at that point and I could feel him studying me through his mirrored sunglasses. I knew that he was struggling to say something urgent, and I waited for him to decide if he could trust me. Then he bowed his head, moving it slowly from side to side, and he uttered in a very quiet and fragile voice: "I think I am going to live forever, and all I am ever going to be able to do is to give, give, give, never asking for or expecting anything in return." And then he wept quietly for several minutes.

I decided that it would not be productive to confront him with my observation that he was probably in a profoundly deluded state. I decided to accept his view of himself, at least for the moment, and to merely observe the process of his thoughts and feelings.

As he sobbed, I noticed that both of his hands crept up to his left shoulder, as if grasping something. It seemed to be some kind of self comforting gesture, and I had never seen it before. From the way he was bent over forward, I gathered that what he was carrying must have been very heavy. I asked him to talk to me about the weight on his back.

He told me it was a very large sack. I asked what was in the sack. He looked up at me and, at that point, removed his sunglasses and let me see his eyes. He was studying me intently. He seemed to be wondering if I had asked my question to purposely mock him. He obviously thought that I should know what was in the sack, then decided that he would tell me anyway, even if I did already know: "The sack contains presents for everyone in the world." I said: "Then it must be very, very heavy." "Yes," was all he said, and he hung his head and looked very weary and forlorn.

I allowed him to stay with his feelings for awhile, then encouraged him to tell me more about the bag and the presents it contained. He told me things had been bad enough before the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union and across Eastern Europe, but now the situation had become impossible because suddenly he felt he had become responsible for the needs and wants of hundreds of millions of extra people.

He raved a bit about the impact of free market economic policies too. He was noticing a profound shift in the types of requests he was receiving. More children were writing to him asking him to "find a job for dad", or to "find a house for us to live in", or to "send a doctor so my little brother can get better", or to "bring enough food so that we won't be so hungry next year".

The letters which disturbed him most were from children whose only wish was for "mummy and daddy to be together again".

He told me then that his mouth was very dry, so I offered to get him some more milk. He asked if I might possibly have a bit of Sherry somewhere around the house. When I produced a decanter of the liquid requested, he drank three glasses rather quickly and, after pouring a fourth glass full, he returned to his narrative.

He told me he thought someone was tampering with his mail, that much of what is written and addressed to him may not be getting delivered. He had mixed feelings about that. He confessed that he didn't think he could possibly deal with any more incoming requests, but he was worried about all those people who might think he didn't care about them. He was concerned that because of the absence of evidence of his caring more and more people were beginning to question his very existence. He confided that he had been experiencing auditory hallucinations. He frequently heard a voice saying: "You don't exist. You're not real." It was his voice and it terrified him.

He did have a bit of insight about that process. He acknowledged that he went to extreme lengths to be certain that no one ever saw him when he was delivering his gifts, and he could understand why people might conclude that he wasn't real.

By this time he was well into a second bottle of Sherry, and he was talking about his need to get back to work. Sensing that his departure was imminent, and aware that he was in a very vulnerable state, I used the remainder of our time together checking to see what sorts of support he might have in the place he would return to. He said he lived in a very cold and isolated location. He told me that he was married, but his wife didn't really understand him. He said he had no contact with people, only elves and reindeer, and he didn't feel he could talk to them.

He told me that he could manage, that he was strong. He said that he was feeling like it might have been a mistake for him to have talked so openly with me. He made his way, rather unsteadily, to the fireplace. He took what remained of the second bottle of Sherry. He put his sunglasses on and bid me farewell by saying, in an artificially jolly tone of voice, "Ho, bloody Ho!" Then he tweaked his nose and disappeared up the chimney.

I don't know if I will ever see him again. A part of me was hoping that he might get picked up at a random checkpoint before he could hurt himself or anyone else. I really think he needs help, but I don't think he is ready to voluntarily enter treatment just yet. If he turns up somewhere in the system and you hear about it, please let me know. I would like to be part of the treatment team if he elects to work on his many issues.

1997 Update.

Some of you may know that Sandra Claus will be taking over since she evicted her mate. She has informed everyone that they should not expect much this Christmas as she is no longer being supported by Mr Claus and the government subsidy does not leave her anything to be giving gifts to everyone in the world.

"Anyway," she said to a reporter, "women have been giving for too long and it's about time they received the support they deserve from deadbeat holiday icons."

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