fb-pixelWhen lightning strikes more than twice - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

When lightning strikes more than twice

Ally Rzesa/Globe Staff

Her daughter’s first Christmas didn’t work out all that well.

It was two years ago, her mother wrote to Globe Santa. The day after she put up their Christmas tree. The apartment caught fire and they lost everything they owned.

That holiday had been fraught to begin with because the baby’s father died during her pregnancy, “and Christmas was his favorite holiday.”

And now –— more troubles. She just found out her rent is going up, and new daycare costs are beyond reach.

“I feel terrible not being able to give my daughter a good first Christmas,” she wrote. “It pains me to think I may disappoint our daughter.”


Misfortune piled upon misfortune. Struggle upon struggle. One writer to Globe Santa gave it a name: “The domino effect.” The mother of two boys, ages 6 and 11, knows about this firsthand.

She and her fiancé were in a “traumatic car accident,” she wrote, which precipitated a cascade of other problems. They both suffered serious back injuries and so her fiancé had to cut back on his work hours. She was already laid off, due to COVID-19, but just when she was in line for “a couple of amazing job opportunities,” the couple were struck by a pick-up truck on the highway, and now they’re both out of work again.

It’s been said that lightning doesn’t strike twice, but as a disconcerting number of letters to Globe Santa illustrate, it can strike three or four times, sometimes more. It seems that any of us can, at any time, be struck by a series of calamities — a spouse lost, a cancer diagnosis received, a favorite pet killed, a teenager succumbing to drugs.

“I know it seems unimaginable,” said Tammy McFarland, now in her 13th season of leading the Globe Santa team members who read thousands of letters each year from families requesting help with holiday gifts. “But I’ve been doing this long enough to know that hard times just sometimes continue to fall on families. Just when you think there can’t be any more hardship, there is.”


This year’s mail included a letter from a mother of two boys who delivered packages for Amazon, using her own car. But last winter, “I got very sick driving in harsh weather,” she wrote, and was hospitalized multiple times with lung issues. Then the transmission failed on her car, so she couldn’t keep driving. Then she developed a rare breast condition and needed surgery to remove some lesions. And the bills are piling up.

Another was from a woman who has worked hard to overcome a life of “neglect, abuse, and trauma.” A disabled veteran, her husband died, leaving her to raise their three children alone.

A single dad with three daughters lost his job during COVID, fell behind on the rent, and almost got evicted. He found a new job, but was laid off again when the business was sold.

Another father wrote that he’s totally disabled from a work injury, after 36 years of service. His wife has had several serious abdominal surgeries causing multiple complications, and she can’t work. He’s awaiting approval for Social Security Disability; she doesn’t qualify for any assistance. “This has left us financially destitute,” he wrote.

There are many valuable life lessons within the piles of letters in the Globe Santa office. Unfortunately, one of them is that misfortune isn’t interested in doling itself out in equal parts. One problem, one setback, by no means insulates us from having more. There is no immunity — herd or otherwise — when it comes to adversity or tragedy.


This reality is hard to accept in our country, where many uphold and embrace a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” narrative of self-reliance. (It’s at the source of Stephen Colbert’s satirical monologue: “I believe in pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. I believe it is possible — I saw this guy do it once in Cirque du Soleil. It was magical.”)

It’s thought that success is attainable, and obstacles overcome-able if your character is strong and you just try hard enough. Hardship is often seen as a personal failing.

But it’s hard to grope your way up when you’re poor, hungry, depleted, exhausted, or discouraged. And misery seems all the more miserable during holiday time.

Sometimes people just need a helping hand, especially when it comes to their children.

That’s where the Globe Santa program comes in, delivering boxes of joy at holiday time.

Linda Matchan can be reached at linda.matchan@globe.com

For 68 years Globe Santa, a program of the Boston Globe Foundation, has provided gifts to children in need at holiday time. Please consider giving by phone, mail, or online at globesanta.org.

Linda Matchan can be reached at linda.matchan@globe.com