Christmas Eve morning, I turned on Pandora. I’d heard there was a new Taylor Swift Holiday station from someone, I don’t remember who. So, I figured I’d give it a try. I listened to exactly one line of Taylor’s cover of “Santa Baby” before I said aloud, “No!” and opted for Mary Chapin Carpenter Holiday instead. Her holiday album “Come Darkness, Come Light” is more my speed. Melancholy, hopeful, full, empty, beautiful and sad.
My Christmas December New Year Playlist looks something like this:
White Horse–Over the Rhine
Love Is Christmas–Sara Bareilles
Auld Lang Syne–James Taylor
Coat of Many Colors–Dolly Parton
Maybe This Christmas–Tracey Thorn
Thank You–Alanis Morrisette
Still, Still, Still–Mary Chapin Carpenter
Same Old Auld Lang Syne–Dan Fogelberg
Ordinary World–Duran Duran
Another Round of Blues–Shawn Colvin
O Come O Come, Emmanuel–Traditional
Gloria In Excelsis Deo–Traditional
The Wassail Song–Traditional
Angel From Montgomery–Lucinda Williams
The Christmas Song–Nat King Cole
Merry Christmas, Darling–Karen Carpenter
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas–Judy Garland
Agnus Dei–Amy Grant
The list goes on, but you get the idea…some would say not too cheerful. Where’s Santa Claus? Mildly represented, at best. My Christmas may seem somber to some, but to me it’s more full than any loaded-baked-potato Christmas tree could ever be. The ornaments and presents aren’t under a tree…they are found within. They appear at the oddest moments as I welcome back the light after the longest night of the year, and they continue long after the official Advent Season has past. I celebrate the beautiful sadness well past my birthday on January 13.
The gifts are different each year. This year, they include a conversation with Andy (you remember him from the previous post several months ago of the same name) where we sat on the couch at The House (as I call it here), coloring in adult coloring books together and talking about the difference between the biological family and the logical family as it pertains to the holiday. It includes the circular halo of branches made manifest by the perfect combination of rain and moonlight through the trees on Christmas Eve. It’s the awareness that loneliness is rich with appreciation for the presence of love in my life, though the ones who give that love freely are absent. It’s the absence of longing. It’s the sound of my breath as it leaves my body, taking old stuff with it, making room for new. Out with the old, in with the new, every minute, every day, every year. The gifts keep coming, like waves hitting the beach, I just have to show up and walk the shore. They’re always there, beautiful and sad, glorious and full of mystery, unnamed, unkempt, unruly, and untamed.
I got lost in the fog at the top of a mountain two nights ago. I couldn’t find the road that lead to the After-Christmas party I’d been invited to by friends I’d not seen in years. I was over an hour late, driving ten miles an hour with ten feet of visibility before me. Back and forth, searching for an unmarked road. “You’ll pass the stone church on the left, and the old Dutch cabin on your right as landmarks. There’s a big pine tree by the wide road where you’ll turn right, and that takes you directly to our place.” Those were my instructions. I could not find any landmarks. I had no guidance. Damned and determined to find it without help, I wanted to show up perfect, all smiles, complete and ready to participate, on time. I had attached to the outcome of Things Going As Planned.
I gave up on that after an hour. I stopped at a stranger’s house. The house looked cozy and warm, brick porch, brick chimney, warm inside with people safe from the dense, uncertain fog just beyond that arched front door. The man was kind. I was careful to present myself as legitimate, not a threat, hopelessly lost, looking for help and guidance. He showed me the way, let me borrow his phone to call my friends, who promised to meet me at the head of the unmarked road and guide me to the party, which had started without me. “But it doesn’t matter,” my friend assured me, “There’s plenty of food yet. We’re just glad you’re here, safe. That’s what matters most.”
Yes, I guess that’s what matters most. Headed back up the mountain to where my friend waited on me, I stopped abruptly as two young does stumbled across the road, inches from my car, inches from the driver’s side door. One of them, dazed and terrified, avoided smacking into my grill by mere moments. The deer and I could have had a different night, a tragic night. But I was aware, I had some clue where I was going now, and had someone waiting on me.
All of us, lost and scared, stumbling through the dark, confused. We missed slamming into each other by seconds, and by my slow, deliberate driving. We were blind leading blind, through the fog, looking for safety and warmth, and I managed to shine a small light in the darkness. Maybe the deer had someone waiting on them, too.
Beautiful young deer, Sad they were almost hit by my car. Beautiful that we all made our way through the fog to a safer place, unharmed. Beautiful, and sad. That’s where blessings are born, out of that rich, complex, and loamy soil.
I count my blessings. Happy New Year everyone. Honor the beautiful and the sad with equal weight, water each moment in the fertile soil, with gratitude for all of it–and I do mean all of it— and the year will balance out.