In everyone's lives adversity tramples through. Sometimes there's a lull and relative quiet and then in the space of as little as a few seconds your path or your life is suddenly and irrevocably changed. Perhaps it's a good change but the reality is that it is likely not. A simple sentence can rock the absolute foundation of where you are, it is important to never forget that.
Regardless of your choice of celebration, it is not the day but the season. Not one event but a culmination of traditions that happen to help bring light to the long dark and remind us of things that are important.
It has been a rough year for many of my friends. The economic issues cast a pall over the lives of many. More importantly, it's been a year of loss for many, from livelihood to lives. Loved ones were taken, and no reasons were given. The struggle to right oneself from blow after blow begins to become more of a burden than the actual hits even are. When staying down seems like the less exhausting option.
"When you stare into the abyss long enough, the abyss stares back at you." ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
My family is facing a crisis, one that deeply gouges the fabric of our lives, and in the space of one day, we found our lives and relationships permanently altered. The details truly do not matter, we are all safe and healthy - and these things do shall pass in time. It's just a rocky road right now.
When the maelstrom hit, it took away all interest in the holiday. There were no glad tidings for us. Before I knew it it was shortly before Christmas and I had not yet had time to get a single present, hang a piece of garland. The tree sat forlornly in the garage, the scent of evergreen calling out as we ran from place to place. I pushed through the masses of humanity, snarling to myself about how painful this process was - just to give my kids something to open on Christmas morning.
We went to dinner yesterday, trying to make sense of things and perhaps turn our minds to other matters for a change. While in the middle of the "grown-up" conversation, I looked down at Meredith sitting next to me. She was blithely eating some macaroni and cheese and singing "Jingle Bells." I was struck with the realization that despite everything going on around her, her Christmas was still coming.
We went back home and I watched them as I was baking some last-minute cookies at the kid's request. Owen took over finishing the tree - stringing the lights and helping Meredith hang ornaments. James pulled out the stockings, stopping to check on Santa (via NORAD) periodically. They curled up in front of the TV in a content little tangle, watching a Rudolph special. And as Meredith carefully picked which cookies we were going to leave for Santa it occurred to me that she existed at that moment absolutely secure in the knowledge that despite anything else, Santa was going to come while she slept. That Mommy's tears and Daddy's worries had no effect on whether or not those reindeer would come. That she had been a good girl and followed the Christmas rules and would be rewarded with happy surprises when she woke up as a result. It was a demonstration of pure faith in something good.
It was enough to rally our worn-out spirits. They were in this as much as we were, weren't they? So with the fading smells of freshly baked cookies and our shabby little tree drifting through the chilly house "Santa" went back to work. My husband set up an old train set around the tree (whose skirt remarkably resembles a hospital blanket) and we wrapped gifts until the wee hours of the night. And the stockings were hung by the chimney with care ...
I awoke on Christmas morning to two distinct things. The first was Vinny calling to wish me a Merry Christmas to tell me he was thinking of us. He is a brother I was not given in this life and he has lost dearly this last year, my heart goes out to him and his phone call meant more to me than I can say - other than I appreciate our common ground. Right on the tail of that were the kids screaming that Santa had come, clamoring for us to get vertical and find our coffee with all due haste so that they could dive into the pretty piles of gifts he'd left for them under the tree.
When does Christmas lose its magic? Is it a sudden loss or do you gradually develop an appreciation for the concepts of fellowship and family over the clatter of reindeer hooves? As they oohed and ahhed over the stalwart tree with its little train set, squealing over each gift, there was no strife or pain - just that pure joy and expectation that whatever is next must be good. Owen said at one point, "This is the best Christmas."
So yes, there needs to be a Santa Claus. It does one good to remember that sometimes faith can be its own magic. Perhaps we need more of that.
A Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
(Author's Note: This was written in 2009.)