On Christmas Eve morning, I wrote: there is a feeling of the jiggling of a snow globe, of not-quite-righted-ness, possible-upsidedown-ness of the day, and also feelings of those shape shifting holidays of the early years after David died when we were untethered from what had come before and striking out, however clumsily, reaching for something that was akin to honest hope.
I had no idea when I wrote that overlong sentence that I had captured this holiday week spot on.
It began on the Thursday evening before the Friday, last day of school which was called off due to the possibility of wind, rain and ice, a storm that never materialized. Friday morning was gray and chilly but only a little rain and a a few gusts of wind. And I put 20 bags of cookies into the freezer, 20 bags that Julia was going to bring into teachers and staff of her transition program that day, 20 bags that I had spent the best part of week baking.
Then came the Christmas plan. Cheshire, Justin and Wilbur were scheduled to travel to Colorado in the early evening of Christmas Eve. Earlier in the day, we celebrated Christmas, opening presents, with a bit of Hanukkah slipped in so we could light candles together. The plan for the rest of the day was simple: after late lunch I dropped the little family at Logan Airport, and Julia and I went to the VNM’s family Christmas Eve celebration. And much later, Julia and I went to church in time for choir rehearsal and the 10:30 pm service.
The plane did not take off at the scheduled 6:30. Instead, they were delayed from hour to hour. I texted with Cheshire around 8:30 and she expected to board any minute. Then, as choir was rehearsing close to 10, their flight was cancelled and Cheshire tried calling and texting me. Unfortunately, my phone was in my coat pocket back in a pew. After we rehearsed, and Julia and I were settling into our seats for service, I took out my phone and saw the texts and phone calls.
Sunday morning we sang Where the Light Begins (music by Susan LaBarr, text by Jan Richardson) (a pretty version to listen to here):
“Perhaps it does not begin, Perhaps it is always. Perhaps it takes a lifetime
“To open our eyes, To learn to see
“The luminous line of the map in the dark, The vigil flame in the house of the heart, The love so searing we can’t keep from singing, from crying out.
“Perhaps this day the light begins, Perhaps this day the light begins in us, We are where the light begins.
“Perhaps it does not begin, Perhaps it is always.”
This is one of those songs, whose melody and words pierce the heart like an arrow. I sang it every day at home last week to learn it. Sometimes it takes me so long to learn music, but singing it every day moved me closer to meaning. And after singing it in choir amidst many voices, I carried around a lump in my throat all day.
I’m up before the alarm, that I turned off last night, would have sounded and ready to . . . back in some old day, I would be . . . um, I wonder how far back I should be going to say what I mean to say today. This is the traditional time of gathering beloved souls together for cooking and eating and hopefully taking a walk before falling asleep in front of some movie on a cushy couch. And this time has been hard won.
I cast the net far enough back to state that my mother’s traditions did not fit me well; and during our East Village days with baby Cheshire in tow, we started to cook for ourselves and our friends. Cooking and talking and laughing and eating. Sometimes too many people crowded into our tiny apartment on First Avenue and sometimes we all went to Park Slope and celebrated in Carolina and David’s sprawling apartment. On a marble topped coffee table with one chip out of the wood frill frame, Carolina served glorious antipasto and David made margaritas. And we got to the turkey much later. Cooking and talking and laughing and eating.
“For the sake of old times!” As close as I can get to a translation that makes sense to me of the words “auld lang syne.”
“Should Old Acquaintance be forgot, and never thought upon”
A slight variation of the Robert Berns words, but the words that sang out to me this morning. Yes, I admit to wanting to not cast too many glances back. It has been a hard year. It has been a brutal almost two years, and all my heart wants to do is to turn and face the winds of the new, hoping and praying that the new will be much, much more pleasant than the old. As a friend wrote as a wish to another friend, a wish for a more cooperative new year.
I have kept a blog for a long time. Julia came home from China in 2006, my first post on my first blog was in September, 2005. The focus has changed over the years—adoption and its fall out, diagnosis and more fall out, more diagnoses, more fall out, therapy, school programs, transplant, death, single motherhood, autism, attachment, travel with my girl, moving, transitioning, shut down, covid and all of its fall out. And through it all I’ve kept writing, not always every day or even extremely regularly, but I’ve kept at it and, dare I say, somewhat improved in saying what is in my heart as much of the time as possible.
The process of writing is essential in my existence but rarely have I studied the process or routinely subjected my work to critique, save the kind words of friends and visitors to this blog. David was the one who took the courses, got the graduate degree, taught multiple kinds of writing; and he was successful in finishing and publishing novels. I have merely and persistently written—mostly journaling since a teen with a few forays into fiction.
But now. Now. Now. With a new year. I feel the tug of what may be next.
“[W]henever well-laid plans are unlaid in an instant . . .”
Melissa Kirsch wrote in the NYTimes two days ago in How We’re Holding It Together: “These lines keep coming back to me — when a long-anticipated trip is shelved indefinitely, when my family decides to postpone gathering for the holidays — whenever well-laid plans are unlaid in an instant”
By the time I read her lines, our holiday plans had already been upended. Julia and I went up to Conway, New Hampshire, as planned, to spend time in the enchanting land of snow with the good company of Justin’s family; however, absent from the gathering were Cheshire and Justin due to positive Covid tests.
Justin who has worked from home for years (and not just since the 2020 shut down), travelled for work for the first time in two years two weeks ago and came home with a bad cold. A take home Covid test the day before we were all to leave for NH was positive and Cheshire followed two days later but only after a P.C.R. test, her rapid test was negative.
Whew! Yes, I’ve gotten this far. This far into this year and this far into life. But I’ve been wasting more than my usual share of days dithering. I wonder if I am alone in this? Courtney Martin, whose, newsletter I subscribe to, called this a “liminal pandemic moment.”
“We’re opening back up. We’re not opening back up. We want to open back up. We sort of actually don’t. We forgot how to socialize with a wide variety of people or in larger groups, so it all feels heightened—like waking up from a nap and being violently thrust into a brightly lit room of smiling, chatty people.”
Well, I am not intending to burst into any rooms of chatting people in actuality or even figuratively. Still, I feel the liminality of the moment. We are gathering tomorrow with our ‘pod’ from the last two years—Cheshire and Justin, his parents, Julia and I–which is quite comfortable. There remains, however, the rest of life–transitions, community, and what the future holds.
I am sad and angry. Trying to find thoughts to share but it is all too raw.
I do have three things to share that are lovely things that should not be hidden away because of all that makes me sad and angry.
First, is Julia’s senior pictures. The sitting for these pictures, like everything else that Julia does, was not typical. One of the two photographers who was working that day was immediately sensitive and took extra time and care, trying to make Julia comfortable and trying to capture some of the joy that is Julia. From the proofs, I picked four. One will go in the yearbook.
I have been trying to be succinct all day. To formulate new resolutions as that is my yearly custom. Or to reflect on this last year—well, you know what that has been like. To feel some inspiration. To engage some new or renewed energy for a noble task.
At least, I think that is what I’ve been trying to do on and off all day.
But nothing comes. Instead, I scribble, starting down one path, following it awhile until it peters out. And then I turn to chase another path and do the same. Nothing sticks.
Holiday lights and the Christmas tree are still a blaze. I am still enchanted by the tree—crowded with decorations shimmering in light by night. Admittedly during the day, I cannot help by see the tips of branches turn downwards and the angel on top has become crooked. I don’t know which look is true, or maybe I should say that it is hard to hold both images in my head—the wilting fading greenery with crooked angel and the fairy lit confection—and know that it is the same tree.
The popourri that is December. I have not had the discipline to finish what I start. Here is what I have been scribbling . . .
Near on predictably, the December holidays have barely started and are already different from any other. The questions that echo in my head are from the Passover Seder. “Why is tonight different from all other nights?” introduces each of four questions. The questions and answers have always been ceremonial and tell a story about ancestors and why we must continue to remember and apply it to our lives. These days the questions and answers are so very present.
On all other nights we . . . but on this night . . .
During all other winter holiday months we . . . but during the winter holiday month during the pandemic . . .