The point is to stop telling the same story. The one that has made sense, and provided a convenient excuse these past years, but doesn’t really serve anyone – especially me.
Like any good script, my Christmas narrative has kernel of truth surrounded in myth. No need for any details, they’ll just fuel the fire of justification. Suffice to say, it’s time to toss that draft, and start again with a blank page.
I don’t think I am alone in my experience of this season. Heck, even the biblical account of a couple of homeless folks having a baby avoided the uncomfortable details and instead focused on shepherds watching flocks and guys bringing strange gifts. And don’t get me started on Santa. Spin is everywhere.
It’s less than a week before the allotted day. I am with my family, together for the first time in months. We’ve fallen into a routine around this holiday that some might call tradition or ritual. As my friend said yesterday “The Holland’s are here, it must be Christmas”.
It’s not as easy as just deciding. A big part of moving on from what was is figuring out the ‘why’ of it. What’s the emotion I’ve been wearing like a hair shirt? How come I resigned myself to it? Once in the light of day I find it quickly loses its grip. Like any good editor will tell you, don’t get married to the words.
I am now looking forward with open anticipation. I’ll say that again, I am looking forward to it. That’s the new story. There is still myth, but I’ve moved past the reversal of the second act, and am enjoying the redemption and resolution of the third.
With an open heart I can say Happy Christmas, and mean it. God Bless Us, every one.
“Oranges and lemons, and the bells of St. Clements” so our mother’s sang as they held their arms in an arch that we walked under. I don’t recall the rest of the song, or what happened after we were through, but, these 45 years on, I have vivid memories of joy.
One December my younger sister had Chicken Pox and couldn’t make it down to the beach to watch the Carol Ships float by. My dad, being the Harbour Master, had some pull, and got the route to extend along the bay further, past a stand of trees that blocked the view from our house, just so she could see the boats by looking out of my parent’s bedroom window.
There was the Annual Boxing Day Pantomime, a weird play that made little sense, but meant an outing so we were all for it. We took a special Blue Bus bound for some foreign destination half an hour from our house to watch Rumplestiltskin.
What I remember most fondly is the wonder that was fostered around Christmas. From mall Santa visits to drives around looking at house lights there was something other-worldly about the whole thing. From my child point of view, it all seemed to happen in a partial dream state, in slow motion with the images having fuzzy edges and voices somewhat muffled. Of course that could also be explained by an overdose of candy canes and sugar cookies.
I like the idea of wonder – where not everything needs an explanation or an answer. Where the experience or moment is fine all on its own. It is the sensation of being in the unfiltered present. I am thinking that is a great disposition with which to walk through these next few days.
It occurred to me recently that my favourite childhood Christmas shows are full of rejection, bullying, and ostracizing. Rudolph laughed at and called names, the Grinch exiled at the top of a mountain, and Charlie Brown mocked at every turn. Merry and bright indeed.
Sure they all have happy, almost heroic, endings. But, imbedded in those little Dolly Madison sponsored episodes is the fact that this can be a really tough time of year.
The 25th of December doesn’t know it’s Christmas. I have friends that will be spending it in their daughter’s hospital room. Others who will be just getting used to the idea of their dad being in Palliative care. The weight of loss and loneliness amplified because of the season.
The holiday seems to teeter on an edge between joy and sorrow. One time our tree fell over and my then four year old exclaimed “Christmas is ruined”. Everything has to go according to plan or it can all come crashing down in a pile of disappointment.
I tried for many years to conjure up the feelings that I thought I should have. I finally gave up. Whatever happens, happens. I thoroughly enjoy the collective agreement to change things up for a few days, slow down, drink egg nog (whatever that is), and consider others before myself. I like that music changes and we all are happy to listen to the same ten songs sung by everyone from the Tragically Hip to Pavorotti. I like the excuse to connect and gather around food, drink, family, and friendship.
And I like the story of Mary and Joseph: Oppressive Romans, No room at the Inn, the shepherds, wise men, and of course the mysterious, wonderous child.
Christmas is all of it. Sometimes you don’t get to play in the reindeer games, and other times you lead the sleigh.
I got a tattoo. No, not the kind that comes with a piece of gum. It’s a compass rose, right there, forever, on the inside of my forearm. It looks pretty cool. That wasn’t the point, but it’s a nice side benefit.
A compass is used most often when there is no known route, usually in wide open spaces like the mountains or the ocean. It helps determine where one is, and the right direction forward.
When I was young I crewed on an old sailing ship. One time, I was alone on watch in the middle of the night as we sailed across a passage out of sight of land. I had a heading to follow. I fell asleep at the wheel. I don’t remember how long I was out, but it was enough for the boat to choose its own direction. I got us back on course, but in the morning the Captain was confounded by how long our trip seemed to be taking.
The first thing one learns is to rely on the little dial to know where north is. The rest is up to the user. I have, to my almost peril, attempted to override what it’s telling me by believing I know better. Classic Rory error.
All to say, that’s why I’ve got this thing on my arm that will, now, never go away. When I am in the wild of life, it’s an indelible reminder that I need to both trust and use my head when making choices and decisions. I can, and will, go off course, but have the ability to find my way back.
Oh, and also because when I roll up my sleeve, I look totally badass, at least in the mirror.
She sprang up from inside the dumpster like a jack in the box. There was a smile on her face and in her hand she held an English cucumber. The bin was behind a large market, anything considered past prime or blemished ended up out there. “It’s like a salad bar in here!” she said.
Tracy’s sense of abundance is a little different than mine. She’s been in the Downtown East Side for ten years. “Not by choice” she added, with no further explanation. Each day she goes to that alley to look for food others don’t want. She showed no shame or embarrassment talking to me from inside a garbage bin.
She didn’t ask for anything, nor did I feel she wanted to. It was a conversation about vegetables is all.
My visit in the lane offered perspective. Not in the ‘there but for the grace of god….’ way, but more ‘why the fuck do I think I need so much?’ I accumulate and consume far above my weight class. This seems especially so in this ‘season of giving’. I rarely say no to a second helping, or third glass of wine.
I don’t feel guilty, I feel stupid. I casually exchange ‘want’ for ‘need’. Somehow, a little bit more seems better than just enough. After the rush of ‘getting’ is over, I am left with ‘having’, which only means more storage.
It’s hard to escape the sense that between Tracy and me, I am the one living with the attitude of scarcity.
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