It’s not original content
but I couldn’t help myself.
By what name would I call you
If you were indeed an elf?
—- Candy PeppermintBuns
Life goes on. It’s the only thing I know for sure.
You leave the hospital after holding your dad’s hand as he took his last breath and people you pass on the road have just picked up a pizza for dinner or are on their way to meet friends to celebrate a birthday. Life goes on.
This that I know for sure is never more evident than at the holidays. All the tasks we need to accomplish by the 25th have to be squeezed – who am I kidding? – SLAMMED – in among the normal insanity of work and home obligations. You get a bad cold? Presents still need to be bought. Financial troubles? Your kids look so forward to getting the decorations out of the attic and setting up the tree. Grandmom in hospice? She’s the first one to tell you to carry on with Christmas as usual, asking if your cards are in the mail.
In my experience, there are two approaches when your eggnog turns sour and you’ve got a house full of thirsty pirates wearing Santa doo-rags on Christmas Eve: denial and despair. You can pretend that the bad thing isn’t happening, never speaking its name and pushing it down whenever it pops to the surface of your psyche. Newbies to this method will find it popping more frequently than the bag of kernels in the microwave to be transformed and strung on the tree. Practice of this art form makes perseverance.
Despair, on the other turtle-dove, is as natural as non-yellow snow. The tears fall on the paper as you wrap gifts and your compromised coping skills are no match for the songs of the season. You go through the motions of December but this thing that is breaking your heart and scaring you to death makes the Grinch look like a penny candy thief. It hangs over your head everywhere you go like mistletoe without the benefits.
In recent years, Novembers have brought serious illness to my husband and I and the sudden, tragic death of my dad-in-law. Although we minimized the activities surrounding it, Christmas was never cancelled. Whether it was stubbornness that this special time of the year would not be ruined, it would not take this from us too, or a diversion tactic and something to throw ourselves into in lieu of profound sadness and fear, life went on.
Christmas went on.
I don’t know how any of us keep going but somehow we do, in our own unique way. Every life is different and our persistence comes wrapped in varying shaped boxes, some tied in ribbon, others adorned with a bow. Mine is in a gift bag, with a convenient handle. Call it Christmas spirit those few weeks at the end of each year, but carrying the human spirit all 52 weeks is how we go on.
While test driving a potential new vehicle, the salesman, seated in the back, explained that we would be taking the approved test drive route and directed my husband accordingly. Varied enough to get a feel for how the automobile handles in different situations, we got a little hill and highway, a little back road and flat. It was a good mix but safe, with no surprises. As I settled into the passenger seat, deeply breathing in the new car smell, I wondered why life couldn’t have a protected, sanctioned course.
But as we drove the roads I’ve known all my life, I realized that if I had been limited to just one path, I would have missed out on seeing and doing so much, professionally as well as personally. I won’t go so far as to include my vision loss in this; I’m not quite ready to come to a complete stop at the intersection of When Life Gives You Lemons and Make Lemonade, but I can put my full horsepower behind the other twists and turns my ride has taken. Safe is for the test drive . . . and the title once you buy it.
This time of year is . . .
A lot of things. Well, it’s supposed to be anyway. For spending time with people you care about. For giving. For counting the blessings of a year almost over. For looking forward to a clean slate, a new twelve months full of promise. Of believing in something bigger than ourselves. For goodness sake.
What this season ends up being, however, through no fault but our own, is a race to the finish, a ridiculously expectant time to check off so-called traditions that are seldom enjoyed but often dreaded. A self-induced season of stress. This is no judgy-wudgy Sister Rain talking. I am standing up to be counted guilty as charged . . . before I collapse from this most wonderful time of the year.
Just let me first check my list, check it twice, and add thrice as many things as I check off.
Don’t get me wrong, I love giving gifts and eating cookies and my twinkley house with its decked halls. I do. But what we are able to accomplish year after year in a few weeks’ time is nothing short of a miracle. Daunting from the last leftover turkey sandwich in late November until we settle down for a much-needed, well-deserved long winter’s nap Christmas night.
Of course this isn’t the “I got my sight back” miracle we all equate that word with. It’s the “little” impossible things we pull off every December: Staying up late to finish the scarf you started knitting in July for your best friend in the perfect shade of blue you spent an hour finding in the yarn store to match her eyes. Spending three days to make the cookies your Nana always made, the smell of the flour reminding you of her arms wrapped around you in a hug. Putting your poor parrot through picture taking to get the perfect “pose” to give your friends and family a laugh when they open the envelope in the midst of their own Christmas craziness. Sitting around the table on The Big Day with the feast you’ve prepared, talking with your nephew about the trip across the country you’ll take him on next fall as his gift. December 26th when you finally get to enjoy your tree, unwrapped gifts underneath, your feet up, warm and cozy. It’s over. You did it. And because you did, someone’s holiday was a “little” brighter.
The perception is that we take on the madness for all the wrong reasons but at the end of the day, THAT DAY, we know in our hearts that our relentless actions and intentions were about so much more than the season. It comes down to love. The biggest miracle of them all.
I hope I’ll still have my very own teeth
And be the very same husband’s wife
But the one thing I wonder more than the rest:
Will my cell number be with me for life?
—- Sister Rain
Grousing about how difficult returning to my daily neighborhood walks has been after a foot injury sidelined me for a few months, my husband suggested I take this particular day off and go the next since I had gone the day before.
“The only way it gets easier
is to keep going.”
—- Sister Rain
My reply was all about the steep hills on the blocks surrounding our home. But as soon as I said it, I heard a chorus of “AMEN!”
Lace ‘em up! It’s the only way.
What types of ornaments do you put on your tree? Elegant glass globes of red and gold? Balls in all the holiday colors? Maybe you have inherited your family’s heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation. Perhaps there is a theme: the Peanuts gang, beautifully feathered birds or only handmade creations.
Our tree is decorated with ornaments we have collected in our almost 30 years together, with a few we brought into the relationship from our childhoods and life before we met. All our favorite things can be found on the branches of our tannenbaum: the sports team we live and die by, the cockatiel who let us be his parents for 15 years, TV shows we have loved, commemorations of our first Christmas together as a couple then as husband and wife, Old Glory, the beach and our hobbies. But the majority of hanging baubles depict places we’ve visited, always making a point to choose trim for the tree wherever we go. I remember purchasing each and every one, from the round disc with a photo of the red rocks in Sedona, the clear glass ball filled with sand from Aruba to the miniature coffee mug we picked up at the original Starbucks in Seattle.
As I came through the dining room and looked at the undecked tree after it was set up in its upright and locked position, waiting for lights and ornamentation, I realized that that bare tree is a lot like my life these last half a dozen years. I am not saying my existence has been empty; I have amazing friends, a true partner in my husband and purpose and plans for the future. But since my vision loss six years ago, we have stayed home, as I healed in every way and we adjusted to a new financial situation. A huge part of who I am was not filled in, leaving holes in my personal adornment.
It is time, though, to explore what exploring the world with minimal sight will be like. Last November, I took my first trip since my world went dark and staticy to Germany and this year adventured on several road trips within a few hours of home. Finally, there are recent memories logged in miles inside me that will be displayed on the outside of my tree. As I unwrapped these latest additions to our collection, I felt more like myself than I have in a long time. It hasn’t sat well in any of my limbs that there have been no new hookable mementos for quite some time.
The amount of ornaments we have is not directly proportionate to our 5’ tree. But like the souvenir nicks on my suitcase, there is always room for one more. That’s the magic of Christmas and the wonder of travel for me.
But I miss her most at noon during the week when the local news comes on.
I would be at work, wolfing down a sandwich or salad at my desk, or in some hotel making sure all the meeting attendees got their Diet Cokes with their Kosher / vegan / low sodium buffet lunch. Wherever I was, I knew she was at her kitchen table, with a cup of coffee and at the very least a Tastykake. You can take the girl out of Philadelphia . . .
I am not a TV news viewer but now that I am home during the day I turn it on at lunchtime to see the weather forecast. And I think about mom, and I want to call her. Sun, rain, sleet or snow, she’s at that kitchen table, in my heart and in my mind . . . and I smell coffee.
“Your life can change in an instant
You brush your teeth for fifty years,
then one morning,
toothpaste makes you gag.”
—- Sister Rain
This little guy was my only purpose when I got out of the hospital six years ago, finding myself blind without warning. Driving, my career, my ability to do just about everything as I always did was gone. Three months into his adoption from a bird rescue, Piper needed a full-time mommy and I needed even a part-time reason to get up in the morning.
What is your purpose? Your family, your profession, your art, helping your community to thrive? Maybe you’re still searching for your purpose; it’s not always easy to find. It comes in many different forms, including 100 grams covered in feathers. But the one thing that is always the same: we must have it. It fuels and fulfills us. Without it, we are lost, consumed by hopelessness and darkness, even if you’re eyesight is 20/20.
I have found new purpose in the last six years, but Piper is still a priority, of course. We may need each other a little less now, but our love and bond is so much more than I could have ever imagined. Don’t ever stop looking for your purpose. It may even find you. And if you’re really, really lucky, it will arrive into your life three months before you will so desperately need it.
Photo credit: Auntie D