“You can be still and still moving. Content even in your discontent.” ~ Ram Dass.
There was a time when I would unwind after a hectic night shift by sitting at my dining table reading the Miami Herald, cup of coffee at my side, kids on or off my lap. Sundays were particularly special – the overstuffed multi-sectioned delight with something for everyone. Before the internet, before online shopping was a thing, the Sunday ads would provide inspiration to mothers and temptation to the kids who would pick out their Christmas gifts by the dozen. But the special treat for a wanna-be writer was the Tropic, the Sunday magazine full of wit and satire (Dave Barry was one subscriber), full of glossy photos and topical local pieces. In my dreams I would submit an essay to them and I would finally be published. I grieved when they downsized and stopped printing the Tropic, it was the beginning of the end for my relationship with print journalism.
But for some reason I would even find the obituaries fascinating. I was interested in the ability to summarize a person’s life in three lines, and loved the startling juxtaposition of the glamorous photo of a twenty-year old in the death announcement of a ninety-year old great grandmother. But who is to say the photo was not the true representation of that person?
December is an emotional time of year for me. You can never really rekindle that feeling you knew in your soul when you were a child, that magical, mystical combination of ritual and religion that culminated in stuffed stockings and special gifts. But you can try to create that fantasy for your own kids. Keeping secrets, maintaining myths, hiding presents in ever more creative spaces each year until the crack of dawn on Christmas Day when your eyes prick with tears as you watch your kids tear into recently wrapped gifts.
But December is also my birth month, even though I have to wait until the month is almost finished before I get my special day (no, not New Year’s Eve, the eve of New Year’s Eve as I seem to always have to correct some of my friends). And in an interesting twist of fate, in the early years of my exile in the US when I was far from my England based family, two of my aunts happened to die on my birthday (not the same year, but still!).
My Christmas memories are by now all jumbled up since I had the early years (UK based); the coming of age years (in the tropics); back to the UK for a few (nursing school in Manchester); and finally my Floridian years with my young kids and my combo tradition – cooking curried goat, oxtail, rice and peas and brussels sprouts for Christmas Dinner.
Ah but then more recently we come to a decade or so of annual trips to the UK at Christmas time. My parents were aging and no longer in the best of health, and my job actually gave me two weeks off at Christmas time (unheard of in my hospital career). When you are separated from your birth family by the Atlantic Ocean you know you cannot just jump up and be there in time when things take an unexpected turn. But although I was with my parents, it was not exactly no place like home for the holiday. Like most parsons, my parents never owned a house, so there was no childhood home to return to. All of my mother’s sisters had died, so those familiar homes of Boxing Day visits were gone. But the traditions remained.
And then, Christmas time became associated with death. My father died in December, my mother’s funeral was in December five years later, and just a few days after arriving home from that trip, my husband died (he of the ‘we don’t participate in capitalistic consumer driven guilt riven celebrations’). And although we had not lived together in over twelve years, his death brought back a flood of memories and regrets.
I almost entitled this FMM ‘Births, Marriages and Deaths’, but my only tale of a marriage around Christmas time was the man who came to my father one year, telling him he was ready to get married. He may have already had one or two children with his common-law wife, but he was now ready to make it formal. He had one condition. He must get married on Christmas Day or not at all. My father refused to do the honors. Christmas Day, he told him, was for families. His only commitment was to the dawn Christmas service, and after that he spent the day at home. Perhaps, he suggested to the possibly inebriated gentleman, he could find a Justice of the Peace (the Jamaican equivalent of a Notary Public) to conduct the ceremony. With that the man disgustedly stomped off, trying to give my father the impression that it was his fault if he never got married.
So here we are in the dog days of the year, 2020 now clearly within view. Yesterday I took a walk in a local park, branches of ancient Live Oak trees stretched their branches out and looked like they would be good listeners. Standing there they brave all weathers, experience all elements, standing still yet moving with the times; nowhere to go yet bending and bouncing back through storms. It was in a song by Willie Nelson and Toots Hibbert that I first heard the phrase ‘Still is still moving to me’, and now I find that the American psychologist, spiritual teacher and author Ram Dass said it better. In this emotional season I can feel joy and pain. I can be grateful for the experiences life has brought me and have no regrets. I can be still, yet still find room for growth.
May you be surrounded by love this Holiday season, whether your loved ones are beside you or no longer physically present. May the kids in your life feel the magic, and may they learn to take nothing for granted, in honor of those who have so little. Have a wonderful weekend, Family! See you in 2020!