Sunday, December 28, 2014

Did you get my Christmas letter?

" For, lo, the days are hastening on, by prophet bards foretold, when with the ever-circling years, comes round the age of gold...":

"Come on, donkey, you can come in. Hi, King, you have a big vase.."

"...three types of muscle cells are smooth, Connecticut, and apple cereal..."

"...reunification of upper and lower Egypt by feral mayonnaise..."

Back in the day, back in my "before" time, I did a Christmas letter every year.  I really enjoyed the process of crafting a series of word-pictures of life around here: a reflection on some obscure verse of a Christmas carol, some funny things the kids said, a line or two about my latest misadventures and a determinedly cheerful report about Andre's activities.  There was a year when my description of the kids' latest homeschooling recitation included the term "feral mayonnaise" (um... Pharoah Menes, anyone?) --homeschooled kids say the darndest things, don't they?  And there was always a photo --often just the kids, but sometimes all six of us, in the Andre days.

And then everything changed in July, 2012, and I gave myself permission to pretty much skip anything Christmasy that felt like too much: hence, no letter, only the decorations that the kids wanted put up, including a real tree for the first time in many years, only the things that could be accomplished in short spurts of energy as I found it.  It was a decidedly odd Christmas, full of strange, poignant moments, but also some moments of genuine light.  I was still, in some ways, mostly numb, mostly still in shock.  But there weren't many demands placed on me that year.  We had tons of support -- one dear couple played Secret Santa to my kids and granted them wonderful wishes, our adopted clan of friends made sure we had someplace to be for Christmas day dinner.  We got through Christmas and bounced into the New Year with help from more of our adopted family, and I congratulated myself that we'd done it.  We'd survived our first Christmas post-loss and it would all get easier from here.

Christmas of 2013 had its moments of "this is just too much" as well as moments of genuine joy.  I'd been in school for more than 6 months, the kids appeared to be doing ok, as far as I could tell.  (It turns out I was missing a few clues, and things weren't quite so rosy.) I managed at one point in December to get all the kids into a photograph, print out those photo cards at Costco, and begin writing a Christmas letter... but I never got it done.  I promised myself, "next year, for sure".

And here we are at Christmas 2014, three Christmases after Andre's death, and I still haven't found the energy to come up with a Christmas letter.  It feels a little like the first two Christmases were perhaps a bit anesthetized by the lingering shock, and then this year, I got hit with the "blah', as in "shock and blah" (apologies to those Bush-era survivors who know what phrase I'm butchering).  I made a sincere effort this year -- I bought a tree on the weekend after Thanksgiving, the same weekend on which I made a visit to a dying friend, to be part of what was her very last party here on earth  (I'm sure she's now hosting some sparkling gatherings in Heaven, though.) And once I got the tree home that first Sunday in Advent, I asked the now-6-feet-tall teenager to hang the outdoor Christmas lights on the front of the house.  The tree eventually made it inside the house a few days later, and decorations happened, in bits and pieces over the next few days: ornaments, manger scenes, Santa Claus figures, a wreath on the door.  I made up a couple batches of my mom's Hermit recipe, and some Spritz cookies... and none of it felt in the slightest bit meaningful or real, but I did it and hoped that I would eventually warm to the season that I've always loved.  As in the past, there were moments of joy and light --mostly in the music that I sing with my beloved choir folks, but also in re-introducing my youngest child to "Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree"--my childhood favorite book.  But still no "magic" for me... just a quiet acknowledgment that there is good to be found, and sometimes it's just "good", but not wonderful.  Maybe my super-enthusiastic self is growing up a bit. 

Somehow, we got to Christmas Day, and it was truly much, much lovelier than I could have hoped for, with a few simple gifts, kids who woke up in much better moods than the ones they'd shown the night before, and capped off by an evening Christmas dinner with the gathering of friends who have adopted us as family for the past few years.  My kids and I are truly blessed.  I have nothing to complain about.  We celebrated Christmas surrounded by good people who have become our family.  We made it through another Christmas with some help and the tincture of time. 

And then yesterday, December 27th, well before the unofficial "end" of the Christmas season--New Year's Day, I was suddenly just DONE with the tree, the clutter, and the feeling that I should be doing more to make it festive around here.  So, after checking-in with two of the four kids and getting their permission, I gave up waiting for the magical feelings to arrive.   I took the tree down and began putting away the holiday clutter, including the various shapes and sizes of nativity scenes that I have collected over the years.  I just longed to be able to re-arrange the furniture, to clean up the pine needles, to put away the kitschy stuff and think about how I'd like to enter 2015.  

Just before I cleaned up my favorite manger scene, it looked roughly like this:
 As I picked up the kings and the shepherds and began wrapping them in their tissue-paper padding,  I began to think about the words of a poem by Howard Thurman, that I sang with my choir folks this season: 

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart

-The Work of Christmas, by Howard Thurman

So, as my shepherds and kings, sheep, camels, Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus and all the others go back into their tissue-filled home boxes for another 11 months, maybe it's time for me to quit wishing I'd feel the magic of Christmas, and to start thinking about the ways I could be doing The Work of Christmas.  

All packed up and ready to go in the plastic tote for another year. Let the work of Christmas begin ! 
I've always been way better with an assignment that is practical and concrete, anyway.  

 Merry Christmas, dear ones who read this.  And all my best wishes for a 2015 that is filled with love, with life and with the ability to appreciate what is all around us in each shining moment we have.

And please forgive me that, once again, there's no Christmas letter from me in your mailboxes.  Maybe next year. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Roses DO come back after pruning (or "3 Weddings and No Funerals yet")

I was out in the garden late one afternoon recently, taking a break from my usual flurry of "drive the minivan, drive the minivan, drive the minivan... study... go to the minivan"... because I needed to prune the roses yet again.  I gave those bushes a really serious cut-down in late August, when everything looked shriveled, and then another cut-down in early October, and yet, their optimistic beauty keeps coming back.  They bloom, they shrivel, they get cut back. And then, while I'm busy going about the rest of life... they come back.

 It got me thinking about some really drought-resistant, late-blooming people in my life lately. 

It was an interesting summer in terms of the social scene. I've been to THREE weddings, and I've got in-hand an invitation to a bridal shower for a bride who will tie the knot in December.

Most of the people in my friend-set had their kids in their late 20's and into their 30's, and so our kids are not yet at the getting married stage.  And you wouldn't expect there to be many weddings of people my age. But still, there is it is -- three weddings this summer.

The folks in my age group have all been married for decades...

Except for the ones who aren't.

At that includes several people who had thought they'd never be married, for various reasons,

one who had no idea she'd find love in her 70's,

and two more who'd thought they'd never marry again.

With each wedding announcement, there's been laughter and broad smiles, and a different kind of delight from the the kind that accompanies those breathless 20-somethings, with their blissful ignorance of what lies ahead.  The feeling I've had as I've gotten the wedding invitations this summer has been a mixture of joy and admiration: joy that at last, these relationships have come to the place of celebrating their love publicly, and an admiration for the way these remarkable people have lived life to this point. 

One of these couples consists of two 50-ish women who, in their 20's probably never dreamed that they'd one day stand in the living room of a lovely wine-country house and make their vows to each other, in the company of family and friends.

Another couple consisted of a man and a woman who'd each been in two previous marriages, and had endured painful, life-altering divorces, and had spent a number of years together quietly "testing" to see if what they had would last.  It has.

The story of She and He is even more surprising.  She is a brilliant scientist and educator. She's got a Ph.D. and blonde, blue-eyed, California-girl good looks.  When her biological clock was ticking really loudly, and Mr.Right just hadn't appeared yet, she decided to pursue her dream of being a parent, even though it meant single parenthood.  Some people around her warned her that adopting kids meant that she was cutting down on her chances to find that special man.  But she felt God prompting her to make a home for two terrific boys who needed a Mom. She and those boys found each other, bonded, and marched ahead through life as a family of three who faced the challenges of special health needs, life in a single parent home, and thrived.  And then one day, She reconnected via Facebook with He, a quick-witted, kind, handy guy she'd known decades before as a marching-band friend in college... throw in lots of late-night online chatting, several very inconveniently situated dates involving road trips between Northern and Southern California, a Valentine's Day proposal on the Golden Gate Bridge and...

Fast forward to August of 2014:
Yup.  They are now Mr. and Mrs. Hyphenated Last Names, with two boys to raise and the rest of their lives to revel in how God's timing is not constrained by conventional wisdom.

So, these days as I watch Winter move closer, the daylight getting shorter, the rain (halleluja!!) finally start, and the last of my 1964 cohort reach the half-century club with me, I am holding onto the idea that the prunings of the past couple years will lead to some blossoming in my own life.  I just have to let go of the idea that I have any control over that timing.  

And in the meantime, it's time to fire-up the Mom-taxi, right after I chuck a load of laundry in the machine, turn the soup down to "simmer", and finish a couple of response papers for class...