It is surprisingly quiet in my world this afternoon, and it creates a mild state of reverie. The dryer stopped tumbling. I ignore it. Marc is on the couch, designing a Sudoku puzzle. Our busy street has emptied itself midday. One of our five children left with her partner to meet/talk/eat/coffee with friends, and in three more days they will journey back to the place where she attends grad school. Two more live in our city; we will see them sooner. Two others and a grandson reside back East, and for a moment I feel the shape of their absence and want to curl up in it. To have them all here would be a miracle.
I drift and follow one thought-picture to another. The last two weeks are a mental collage of people, places, objects. Mounds of bright wrapping paper and ribbon figure heavily in the picture, and a meticulous gift list to which I referred until the last minute. Bits and pieces of conversation slip in and out of my mind. They are accompanied by a chorus of laughter, eyes closing and opening, hands that wend through the air as though independent messengers of the real story. There have been candles, at least twenty of them, lining up on the coffee table, throwing light from bookshelves, casting a steady glow over several family meals. I think that each child and grandchild is like those candles, aflame with life, softly or boldly. Beautiful fires. In the center of the oak dining table is an angel chime powered by four miniature candles and its sweet dingdingdingding is a background accompaniment to this Christmas imagery.
There were gifts upon gifts; the fir tree presided over such abundance. I admit to a tendency toward extravagance. It has little to do with money and more to do with an intense desire to offer surprises and items of use for both external and internal possibilities. I still want to nourish this family although they move away from me daily as they design and administrate their own lives. I wish to give their children ways to support dreams, stretch the parameters of mind. And encourage opportunities for fun. I think I did alright. No one sneered or let escape a sigh, at least in my presence, which is appreciated in an increasingly uncivil world.
The candlelight service at church replays against the greys of this waning Saturday: songs luminous and familiar reaching the rafters; prayers for the living, those leaving or gone; communion, that mysterious melding of earthy and divine. It was good to see people gathered, knowing we each harbored complex humanness rife with needs and wants yet came, anyway. There was a moment when members of the choir took places among us, and music enveloped us, entered my blood, connected my spirit with all. Moved us to tears. Then, finally, we took small candles and all those vivid points of light were ignited from person to person, then raised in the wide canopy of darkness.
But here’s the thing: it finally ends, the fanfare and bustle, the gorgeousness of this season. That pause wherein the holy is made more palpable and the contrasting secular is given its due is left behind. It all has a prelude and finale. We take up our workaday posts as family members and friends, workers, students, dreamers and doers. The gifts may or may not figure into anything we start and accomplish. We learn early on when the toy breaks we can’t count on things, and before the new year begins they may be forgotten despite our best intentions.
What we are finally left with is something else. What we snared from the feasting and communing will help define the tone of the coming weeks. The light is fanned and fed or allowed to fade. Perhaps even the angels breathe quietly and wait and watch.
There are few days between this old year and the new one we try to envision. As they pass, my home will be emptied of the once-gallant tree. Trimmings will be hauled to the basement. My children will have again departed. I will have more work to do, projects to consider, worries to corral as will we all. And yet I will sit in the middle of each new day and night, and I will surrender to them, and to this, an essential solitude. There is reassurance in this. In the end, when all the trappings are gone, I have my own self within these moments. And even though I keep intimate company with a failed will, flaws and errors, I am still at home with the truth of who I am. And with God, in the most pedestrian ways. What I make of things remains up to me as I sort through odds and ends.
Let this year, this time pass, and come what may, let the living continue with expectant gratitude, a savory dash of merriment. Let us be captivated, made more present. Alive.