December 21, 2012 § 24 Comments
I have never been a big fan of Christmas although I wish I were. I wish I were the type of person to buy presents in October, like my neighbor or write lists in a little notebook, like my husband. Instead, I am the one who waits for someone else to bring home the tree and then finds a reason to be upstairs while the lights are hung. I ignore my mother when she tells me I need some greenery on the mantle and later pretend I don’t notice her walking through the side door with an armload of pine branches.
Sometimes, Christmas makes me lonely. Occasionally, it makes me feel greedy, and a little anxious as I wonder where we are going to put all the new Legos, the Erector set, the Matchbox cars that we stick in the bottom of the stockings. I worry that I don’t have the right sort of traditions, the same way I used to wonder why I could never get my hair to feather or find a boy who would want to take me to the Christmas dance. The holidays seem to be made of extremes: brilliance and shadow, joy and sorrow, twinkling lights and the longest darkness. Last Friday’s news has made this year difficult for all of us, I think, even the most joyous. We’ve been knocked down by a certain type of grief, the kind that makes you want to fall to your knees and shove your fists into your mouth.
Yesterday, I took the boys down to the bay alone, without the other neighborhood kids. The sun was dropping quickly towards the water and the sky was heavy and low with rain. In front of us, a blue heron silently unfolded himself from a rock and beat his wings in a sure and steady rhythm. It was warm enough still for frogs, so we stood under a dripping tree for a few moments and listened to them.
On the way home, the light was so dim, I could barely see Oliver as he walked next to me, talking about Christmas traditions around the world, which he is studying now in first grade. He told me about the poinsettias from Mexico, the picnics in Australia, the way Jews everywhere light the eight candles of the menorah and remember their ancestors.
It was after five and the darkness was falling hard as it does in December, as it does every night, no matter how much we try to stop it. Time moves on, and eventually the menorah is snuffed out, the Christmas tree is hauled to the curb. It’s February or March and we are no longer hoping for snow. We turn on the news or talk to our neighbor and again learn that we humans can be more wretched than even the most horrible fictional monster.
And still. Nevertheless. I feel drawn to light a fire in that unfathomable space between my ribs, although I have no idea how to even begin. Maybe we are all hoping for a spark, striking whatever kindling we can find, fumbling foolishly in the dark for a candle or a match even as the sodden floor of our grief squanders our efforts.
After dinner last night the boys were too rambunctious, too high on Santa and red hats, the hope of a Pez dispenser this year. They asked me to make cookies and I said yes. I hunted down the cookie cutters and scraped off the Play-Doh. I melted molasses and butter on the stove and stirred in ginger and cloves, cinnamon and allspice.
I thought about what Oliver said about our ancestors and then I thought about mine. I wondered if my grandparents ever sat in front of a radio in Queens, their heads in their hands as they listened to news broadcast from so many of the wars they lived through. I thought about their grandparents who sailed to Ellis Island before the Irish Revolution and the ones before them who suffered the famine and the plagues, Oliver Cromwell and the Romans. I thought of the horrors they witnessed and the rituals they celebrated, and I wondered if maybe that’s the point of the holidays, if we keep them because they remind us how to move forward. Start by lighting the first candle. Begin by decorating the tree. Stop and watch the moon rise on the darkest night.
And so we continue. On the shortest day, we tell each other the light will return, even if we don’t quite believe it yet. We pound our anger into smooth rounds of dough, hoping the heat will transform it into something we can swallow. We consecrate the temple, laying our grief on the altar as if it were our most sacred offering. As incense wafts over the pews we make the sign of the cross and anoint ourselves with sadness. Dona nobis pacem, we sing, even though we might only be mouthing the words. Grant us peace.
Oh, Pam, my God … I am speechless at the beauty of this. Dona nobis pacem, indeed. Thank you. xox
Beautifully said — as always. May your holidays be joyous, or at least tolerable.
You have just written the words I needed to hear all day. How I love what you do, so simply and powerfully. I’m with Lindsey, speechless, grateful.
Oh honey. So beautiful. Thank you. And yes, please. Peace.
Buon Natale from Roma, and love,
Christa Gallopoulos http://www.carryitforward.com http://www.womenheal.org
Sent via iPhone, with all the inevitable autocorrects!
Let me echo Katrina & Lindsey’s joyous refrain: you are, indeed, a sage gift-giver of your words, laden with insight and tenderness. Thank you for you. Grant us peace–and love to you. xoxo
me too, all that. you just lit my candle, baby.
Reblogged this on Random Animal Parts.
Thank you, Pamela. I’ve been sitting with this sadness this past week. Off and on feeling it. What a beautiful expression you’ve found.
Thank you, Pamela, for sharing these beautiful words. Blessings to you and your family and here is to much peace.
I was in an advanced a cappela choir in high school and the biggest benefit was that we got out of school with stunning regularity in the month of December to sing for charities and benefits and (most heartbreaking of all) retirement homes. Those elderly people would weep and weep, hearing us. It was hard not to cry while we were singing, looking at their faces.
That was one of those songs that completely made those residents come undone.
So, you are a modern day female Romantic poet! Wordsworth, Coleridge…they would all be proud. In the midst of your observation of sorrow, you take a moment to observe this: “In front of us, a blue heron silently unfolded himself from a rock and beat his wings in a sure and steady rhythm. It was warm enough still for frogs, so we stood under a dripping tree for a few moments and listened to them.” This is so good!
As the solstice wanes upon the west coast I glimpse the twinkle of your heart, feel the woosh of wings and hear the song of frogs older than us all.
Sending All Best to you and yours and all of ours that 2013 may bring compassion rising to meet your own.
Lovely and important, both. Thank you.
These need to be read aloud. As in church. This is the day the Lord hath made. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
I love this piece (started to write “peace” just now), Pamela. My mother died on Thanksgiving Day 10 years ago, so the holiday season is always fraught for me with that tension you talk about, even the brightest of days casting a long shadow. It’s better than it used to be, but I don’t imagine the holidays will ever be completely free of the darkness for me. It’s easy to forget what a hard time of year this can be, the melancholy that sets in for all sorts of different reason: for what is, what might never be, what will never be again.
Lovely, as always. And now I’m crying at the post office.
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God. You are a beautiful writer. Thank you again for so much soul.
This is beyond beautiful.
I’m late to the party because this holiday season was particularly difficult for me. I was sad. Your words are comforting to me. I think about how my family celebrates the Solstice. It’s an old tradition in my home, one first born to comfort tiny children who were afraid of the dark. But it morphed. And it became something holy…for my very Pagan daughter. I love how God works like that. Shadow and Light. I find that very peaceful. Here’s my story if you’re interested. You are a soul-sister of mine.
I’m finally reading this, in the second week of January, because I needed to pull away from everything after the event in Newtown. I am slowly coming back: to only my favorite, safe, spirit-soothing places on the internet, of which you are one of the brightest.
Thank you for this. Happy New Year.
this: “the sodden floor of our grief”. i always walk away from your posts having received so much. and ps my grandparents would have been sitting around a radio in the bronx. 🙂
It is interesting that a holiday that is to be about light and happiness is often reflective of the light and shadow that is a natural part of everything. Beautiful words.
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