In our little town, there is a charming little main street filled with antique stores and specialty shops and charming little cafes – two of them – at which you can buy lattes and cappuccinos and pots of tea with cookies on the side and sit at little round tables and have quiet, gentle conversations while watching people bustle about on the street outside. And if you head east on this street, down a block or two, just past the wellness centre (now with yoga classes!) and the office of the local Minister of Parliament, and then a few paces further, you will find another place to buy coffee, although you wouldn’t call it a café. It’s not the kind of place where you can get a latte or tea in tea cups with cookies on the side; you order your coffee ‘extra-large regular’ and maybe you get a donut on the side.
The snow is lovely, bright and deep / but she has promises to keep / and miles to go before she sleeps / and miles to go before she sleeps.
Frost’s classic poem is, of course, haunting in its original form, but is it any more haunting than a cold winter afternoon spent trying to entertain candy-cane-jacked, snow-mad kindergarteners who have already declared that they are ‘NOT SLEEPING UNTIL SANTA COMES MOMMY YOU CAN’T MAKE ME’? Is it? IS IT?
I love Christmas. I love it with the fiery heat of a blazing winter fire and a million twinkling fairy lights. I love the sparkle and the twinkle and the plum pudding and the eggnog and the tinsel and the gift wrap and the stockings and the carols and the hymns and the stories, all the stories, every single one, from the manger to the magi to old St. Nicholas to the Grinch (spare me the pieties about not telling tales to children. A childhood without the magic of stories, woven so brilliantly as to obscure the lines between fact and fiction, make-believe and make-of-that-what-you-will, is no childhood at all, in my opinion.) I love it, all of it, the snow-globe perfection of it, the gentle sheen of protective glass over perfect, brilliant moments in time, the way that it can just take one such moment – a moment in which the crackle of the fire makes you feel perfectly, contentedly warm; the flash of belief in a child’s eyes when you tell her that the jingling of bells that she hears is the music of flying reindeer; the fleeting frost-kiss that is a snowflake landing on your cheek – and make that moment expand almost infinitely and make you forget that outside the snow globe, life’s storms come pelt hail and bend your umbrella and soak your mitts.
I wanted this year to start with laughter and smiles and cookies and fizzy soda. I didn’t want confetti and champagne and fireworks and streamers – I just wanted smiling. I just wanted this year to start happy.
I’m still trying to find the happy. Yes, my heart lifts when I hug my children and my lips curve when they giggle but the last week of last year and the first week of this year have been covered in a thick blanket of fever and snot and heartache and it’s been hard to find the laughter. And although Nyquil takes the edge off the fever and snot, there aren’t sufficient meds for heartache, Ativan and Xanax notwithstanding. Last week was much, much harder than I thought it would be – doing the final clean-up of my dad’s place in the week between Christmas and New Year’s was, in hindsight, less than ideal timing. Coping with the heart-punches of the holidays was difficult enough without throwing myself into the line of fire of the gut-kicks and soul-wedgies that came with seeing the last of his things carted away, his home wiped clean of his presence.
Last night, I was writing a post about having had a particularly bad day while Christmas shopping. It was a post about struggling with grief over the holidays, about the heartache that comes in those moments when you’ve gotten caught up in the holiday spirit and forgotten that something – that someone – is missing and then you suddenly remember and OOF. It was a post – again, again – about my dad. I was struggling to write it. I was wondering, as I always do, why I persist. I was feeling sad.
As I was agonizing over it, I heard a small voice from the other room, singing, in very high, measured tones, hallelujah.