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Postcards from London: A Cup of Cheer

Airdate: February 28, 2013

           My second Christmas in London bore no resemblance to the first.  And while I did receive several fabulous dinner invitations over the holidays, I still ended up with no plans for Christmas Day, the only day of the year when not a single bus or train runs in London, and cabs charge double fares.  The last thing I wanted was to be stranded at home—alone—on the 25th of December.  I put out a general Facebook inquiry, trying not to sound too desperate.  And lo and behold—a friend who happened to have a car responded, saying he’d been invited to a Christmas get together with some friends who were looking for company, and I was more than welcome to come along.  All I had to do was bring a secret Santa gift worth £5 or less.

            Our plan was to first attend morning services at St. Paul’s Cathedral.  However, we thought better of that once my friend arrived well behind schedule, with two others in the car, saying that they’d taken too much time getting ready.  Now we would have to face disapproving looks as we paraded 20 minutes late past the cathedral congregation, our shoes uncomfortably loud on the stone floor.  How about a cup of tea instead?  “That sounds great!” I said.

            It turned out that the tea was served on the West side of town in a public hall where AA was having all day meetings.  It also turned out that my friend—along with his two companions—were all recovering alcoholics, and as our holiday gathering wasn’t due to start for several hours, and we needed to kill some time, this was as good a place as any.

            I sat on the molded plastic chair, holding my styrofoam cup, as one person after another stood up, in a real-life reinactment of what I’d only ever seen in movies and television:  “Hello, my name is Arthur, and I’m an alcoholic.”  “Hi, Arthur.”   So...this is Christmas, I thought to myself.

            As we made our plans for the rest of the day, it became clear that most everyone coming to the dinner party was in recovery from some kind of addiction.  Suddenly I remembered, with embarrassment, the secret Santa gift I’d brought:  a small bottle of Bailey’s with assorted chocolates.  Oops.  I told my friend, who assured me it would be fine—we would simply arrange so that the party host—who wasn’t in a recovery program—would be the one to receive my gift.

            The party was a little unconventional, and my friend was the only person there whom I knew.  We caught a bit of the Queen’s traditional Christmas address on a smartphone while the final dinner preparations were made.  And then we sat down, a mismatched bunch of holiday revellers gathered around two large tables pushed together, discussing various recovery group meetings and the relief of not having to spend the holiday with family, where uncomfortable scenes were likely to arise.  But at the center of it all was a classic English turkey dinner with trimmings and puddings, and I found myself once again surprised at the places I land in this life, surrounded by the generosity of strangers, and struck by how, though we may seem different, we humans all choose our own addictions, finding ways to deal with life, to recover from its heartaches, and ultimately enjoying Christmas cheer and friendly faces around a table big enough for everyone.

           — Wendy Sherer

photo credit: Marie Vejvodová