You learn from loss to hold on since letting go is always present. You learn to savor, to squeeze every moment, until the joy drips on your face like rain. You learn to send flowers, bouquets of love, to send that card, to show up for that lunch date. You know to tell people what they mean to you and why, this tiny moment being all you know for sure. You learn to value presence and the grace of living life full awake. You learn that you are small and life is a vapor fleeting fast so you work to slow down its rapid, racing pace. You abandon fear, no time for the wretched thief who would keep you worried, anxious, hurried and mangled with despair. You memorize freckles and take photos with your heart and you cherish before it's gone. You drive long hours for band concerts and track meets, to hold new born babies and to make snow flake angels with helping little hands. You make your grandfathers Christmas candy and build ritual out of rubble, you sew memory with every heartbeat. You weep and you mourn, you curse and you laugh, you live your life true and full and wide. You pray and you dance and you come to know grief as a grace that delivers to you love en masses and you have but this one life to take it all in.
I scramble to find the Christmas lights in the garage that is still cluttered with boxes from our move, tripping over first one thing and stubbing my toe on another; I swear under my breath as the Silent Night plays in the other room.
For weeks I’ve been trying to beautify my home, to hang ornaments and Douglas fir swag’s, to fill the air with cinnamon and clove hoping the loveliness will cover the hurt and fear of this season.
As I make my usual preparations, I am acutely aware there are faces missing from the scene this year, loved ones who once filled the halls with laughter and warmth whose absence leaves us with an empty longing ache. There are relationships that are shattered and broken pieces of us lying on the floor, there are dreams that did not come true staring back at us from the holly covered kissing ball.
My cat, still unsettled in the new home has peed on my tree skirt twice so that I am afraid to wrap my gifts and seal them with bows for fear my loved ones will find more than what they hoped for in the box gilded with love.
‘Perfection is a myth’ I chant as I remember the words of my therapist from ions ago. I drive to Starbucks in the drizzling rain of early December that should be fluffy white snowflakes the size of my hand and I think of her as I so often do this time of year.
If anyone had expectations of how things ‘should be,’ if ever a woman dreamed of how the miracle of Christmas might come to pass it was Mary. Had she and Joseph argued about the ill timed trip to Bethlehem, had she complained and asked him to walk faster so they might make it into the city in time to find a room? Was she driven to tears and exhaustion by the sorry excuse for lodging that was afforded them, was she angry when the uninvited guests arrived unannounced?
If any of this is true, we have no record of it; we only know these imperfect memories, this ramshackle scene, this inelegant birth was precious to her so that she thought about it often and treasured that night in her heart (Lk. 2.19).
It strikes me that her response is so different than mine. Faced with fear and uncertainty, I respond with a fierce furious need to control, dragging everyone with me, kicking and screaming doing what I can to force what ‘should be.’ Mary found the grace and sweet blessing of accepting what is.
I don’t know what things look like around your table this year, not sure if your traditions will endure or if life or hardships, natural disasters or economic woes threaten your long held ways. It is possible that your turkey will be dry and your relative will step out of line but remember this; the miracle of Christ often finds its way into the worst possible situations. The hope of Christmas is more than some preconceived notion or Norman Rockwell image, it is born in love, hewn in the rock of surrender, known in the acceptance of what is here and now.
May the peace of Mary and the wonder of her Son dwell with you this season and may you know the joy of living right where you are.
I take stock of these days, when tulips bloom and peonies pop though death and loss still loom; a friend gone far too early, a cousin lost without warning, a loved one’s mother even as I recount the hours and recall where I stood one year ago today. Do we fight, do we force her body to live even as it is clear her spirit is departing; do we hold on or do we let go?
It is a year later now and I grieve and I laugh, I dance and I mourn. I pray for love and more love, I wrap myself in it like a baby’s first blanket, I insulate my fragile self with sisters of the Christ kind who pour love on me, a sweet salve to my wounded heart.
It is a year later.
It had been a fast weekend at the end of a very long week at the end of a hard fought season. I was on a long flight home with Downton Abbey season 2 relishing the heavenly gift of a window seat and no passenger beside me. I stretched out long and wandered into the world of British aristocracy, the Earl of Grantham and his three renegade daughters.
Enveloped in the disagreement between House Manager Carson and Lady Mary, I missed the warning from our pilot that the ride was about to become rough. In an instance, drink carts were rolled away and a routine flight from Atlanta to Indy became the Wabash Cannonball.
Climbing high and dropping low, the plane itself felt like a rickety old roller-coaster that should have long sense been shut down. Drinks flew, women screamed and I--I breathed a prayer and rode the waves, the ups and the downs lost in the world of Cora and Sybil and Jesus’ care. Miraculous, I thought later, as not so many years ago I had to take a small orange pill to steady my nerves before boarding any flight.
I prayed and smiled as I remembered the girl who used to be undone with anxiety at the sound of every squeak at the jerk of every bump; the one who could not relinquish control enough to find peace 30,000 feet in the air let alone below, now held her drink with bended arm, bouncing flexible with the turbulent air and continued to find pleasure in the moment she had been given—hard as it was.
I realized, I am not that tranquilizer girl anymore. Life has come at me hard, there have been many highs and blowing lows and I am still here.
It is a year later.
The grey cloud is lifting and I am finding joy, I am laughing long and loud. Slowly some energy has returned to my frail muscles and my endurance has increased. The sleepless nights are less frequent and the veil of sadness has begun to dissipate, though the dull aching throb at every exhale remains. The long fought battle with God has eased and I have embraced now the truth that sorrow is a part of life and God can be in it just as God is in joy.
I have come to know that my suffering does not make me unique, rather it knits me together with all the universe and this deep longing, this good knowing is now woven into the fiber of my being and runs in the current of by blood. I am no longer on the island of pain alone but I realize I am connected to all of God’s children who hurt, who are lost and who hope to find their way home and in them I find sweet company.
I have heard it said that the path to healing is forged in love and time and that is surely true, I would add the PBS series Downton Abbey doesn’t hurt.