It has been over 18 years, and it’s not possible to experience Christmas without feeling the sharp loss of my mother.
You see, Mom was a profound Christmas elf and a button pusher of the highest order. For the last decade of her life, she pronounced each Christmas to be the biggest ever because it could be her last. Eventually she was right. It was her last. 1998 to be exact. She passed in August of 1999.
I remember decorating ever larger trees each year under her direction while my father literally yelled “Bah Humbug” from the other room. He was at least 50% joking of course. It is not possible to completely disavow someone who injected so much joy into Christmas, especially someone who could cook holiday food so well. I’m sure the price tag made his Januaries painful, but the late Decembers were worth it, probably even to him. I remember pulling feats of lopsided balance on a step ladder that was never intended to be used inside the house in order to decorate the top quarter of a 14 foot tree. My mom was not so much about safety as she was about some belief that involved a certain kind of faith and a certain kind of righteousness of purpose. At Christmas, the purpose was celebration and sharing. It’s probably safe to say that her faith kept me from falling off that ladder as I leaned way out to place the star upon the tree.
She had a great friend, Linda, whose value I completely missed until I was old enough to understand. As a kid, Linda was an interloper on our family Christmas, and I resented it. As an adult, I understood the value of her friendship with my mother, and I felt truly sorry for my childish reaction. As I write, Linda is somewhere in Kentucky, wrestling with her own struggles, and feeling the loss as sharply as I do. I have nothing for Linda these days except a deep gratitude for her support of my mother all those years. Linda has never embraced the internet, and will never read these words, but I have let her know that I finally understood, that some things are hard to understand, and yet infinitely valuable in this world.
It is not wrong to approach Christmas as a symbol of our relationship with our creator, no matter how you view that relationship, but the truth is that we are poorly equipped to deal with it on that level. For most of us, it is very hard to bring an infinite God down to our level of existence, but we always have the next best thing. We have the people who matter in our lives, who actually affect us, who move us with both kindness and cruelty, comfort and loss, lessons and support when the lesson is too hard to grasp. We have Christmas, as it exists, both in the strict framework of Christ and the broader framework of values in life. We don’t have to agree on the meaning; we only have to agree that there is meaning, that we all affect each other, and that today of all days, we choose to reflect on the positive meaning of our collective motion into a world that works for all of us and brings us closer to each other.
Some of you know I am speaking directly to you, and some of you don’t. On this day, I am speaking to all of you, with all of the meaning fully intact. If you think I have forgotten, I have not. I love you all.
Merry Christmas, everyone!