The last word: Christmas angels
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The last word: Christmas angels

From InterAction 91, Christmas 2015

Our very own Christmas Angel Patsy Quinn ponders the uniqueness of each and every person with M.E.

Every December, at the art centre in the town where I live, there is a one-off screening of It’s a wonderful life. Mulled wine and mince pies are included in the price of admission, making it the ideal mid-afternoon treat in the week before Christmas.

I have banned myself from going. Why?

Well, because before the titles have finished rolling I’m in tears, resulting in a splitting headache for the duration of the film. The reason I’m crying is because I know what’s coming and that it is one of the loveliest, most uplifting films of all time.

If you have never watched it, I urge you to do so. The central character, played by James Stewart, has reached the end of his tether, seeing the life he planned fall apart, and feeling that he is a total failure. Since this is a Frank Capra film, his desperate plight is tempered by the arrival of an angel, called Clarence.

There is something so quintessentially Christmassy about angels, from the tinies in their school nativity plays, to those we place topmost on our trees, to those that scared the bejeezus out of the shepherds, with their message of peace on earth and goodwill to all. 

Action for M.E. knew, clearly, that angels are messengers, which is why they created their own Christmas Angels. The idea behind this project is simple. People with M.E. can send festive cards to other people with M.E. Those that I received last year were cheery and their messages supportive. One stood out for me, because the writer’s words echoed my own feelings. She wrote that we are so much more than our illness.

It’s true. I refuse to be defined by the disease. I have M.E., but I am me. Since this message is so positive, I wanted to pass it from her to you, dear reader; you know it already, but it’s good to be reminded every once in a while.

Unique as snowflakes

So who are we then, the hundreds of thousands of us, affected by this illness? We are siblings, parents, grandparents, cousins, friends. We love DKNY. In 1977 we placed an each-way bet on Red Rum. 

We’re terrified of pigeons. We drive a hatchback. Prosecco is our favourite drink. We quilt (but not after the Prosecco). We are argumentative (especially after the Prosecco). When we were eight, we won a goldfish. We grow prize-winning onions. We play our vinyl collection regularly. We’ve sat shiva for our uncle. We have our own Twitter account – and 37 followers.

We make a mean chicken tikka masala. We keep that pair of size 12 trousers – just in case. Our favourite hijab is by CK. We love the feel of fresh cotton sheets. We’re obsessive about Game of Thrones. We believe that Curly Wurlys and Waggon Wheels were larger when we were younger. Every Friday we have a fish ‘n’ chips supper. We’re members of the Magic Circle.

We watch box-sets when we can’t sleep. We are under-tens, we are tweens and teens. We upload our songs on YouTube. We are old enough to remember – delete where applicable –Teddy Boys/Beatlemania/New Wave/Live Aid/Britpop. We agree with Luther Vandross that the best things in life are free, but we know that the best things in life aren’t things.

We are determined. We know what matters. We take joy in simple pleasures. We know who our real friends are. We accept that life didn’t turn out as expected. We cry, rage and hate it all – but we can still smile when we watch cats on the internet.

Yes, dear reader, the people who live with this disease are as many and varied as the snowflakes that drift earthwards from a winter sky. And each one of us has our very own Clarence, be it the postie who rings the bell and then waits for you to get to the door (I know!) or the friend who brings flowers when it isn’t your birthday.

We all have them, our human angels, who may not have wings or be clothed in robes of white, but whose halos shine very brightly indeed. So to them and to you, I raise a glass of non-alcoholic mulled wine and wish you a very M.E.rry Christmas.