Just when I think I’m going to catch my breath, another of life’s waves crashes in, reminding me with aplomb that I am not in charge, not even of the little things like birthdays or carpool or dinner. Or big things, like birthdays and carpool and dinner. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. The ancient cat is hungry again, reminding me in a persistent and peevish wail that I have failed – once again – to tend to what matters most. Thank goodness we have each other.
The holidays have been a scene, people. Mostly good. Really good, actually. Lots of time with our practically grown-up children, who are thoughtful and funny and smart. We’re down to one sole surviving teenager living at home, and he is more than willing to share the focus under the parental microscope with his siblings. But I could have done without the three funerals, unexpected visits to hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, and distressing news about the health of the people I care about most. When the seasons of life overlap with the holiday season, the cognitive dissonance is real.
I don’t know why I still hold on to the naive faith that the holidays should be immune from the touch of ugliness, hostility, or other trauma, as if the whole season could be suspended for a short time, safe from the full range of life’s offerings, and display only its happiest parts sporting fresh hair cuts and ironed shirts. Like how it looks in everybody’s holiday cards, mine included.
You would have known this if I had managed to get cards out sometime before the Epiphany. But I didn’t.
I have some really compelling excuses, too. Most of them involving licensed emergency responders, the ancient cat and a fire hydrant. Not necessarily in that order.
Let me add, for the record, that I love holiday cards. All the holidays. All the cards. I love sending them and receiving them. I love the formal family photographs and the blurry snapshots, I read every newsletter, poem and sentimental greeting. I rush to the mailbox, thrilled to see the stack of cards bringing good tidings of great joy, whether handwritten or preprinted. I collect them in a rising pile and wait to open them until I have time to sit with my husband and a glass of Pinot Noir. We take our time. Together we share delight in the blessings experienced by our friends and family from all over the place. This year, that moment did not arrive until well after 2018 had expired. Even so, as we opened each envelope, we laughed and smiled and made note of new addresses and bouncing new arrivals and shiny new degrees, and it was all well and good.
Until my husband asked whether we had mailed our cards. It’s a reasonable question. We had even taken a family picture with this intention. But as the ho ho ho turned boo hoo hoo, this particular project seemed to lose ground on the list of priorities. I confess that I had been considering punting on the cards entirely this year. I was ready to put this particular season behind me, eagerly looking forward to the end of the holidays. I was relieved when I prematurely relegated our explosion of Santas and snowmen and angels back to their red and green containers in the garage and kicked that crispy pine to the curb.
Lucky for me, I am married to a man who understands that there is no set expiration date for sending love to friends and family. “So what if the cards arrive after Valentine’s Day? Or even tax day? I don’t care, do you?”
I guess not. But I might feel ever so slightly better if we could maybe just agree that the time for red and green could be extended to include anything in the seasonal vicinity of hearts, clovers, limericks and leprechauns.
It is true that I have been personally cheered by the renegade Christmas card’s arrival in February, camouflaged amidst the catalogs and bills. It’s like finding that lost watch in the dresser drawer after searching everywhere else for weeks. It is also true that I married into extended families who have embraced me as their own, and one of the great things about giant families is that they practice acceptance for a wide swath of humanity and its correlated quirks. Sure, it can be complicated, but I am incredibly blessed. There are too many holiday festivities to count, a few additional hospital visits, more accomplishments to celebrate, many extra miles to drive. If the increase in family hoopla means that the so-called season’s greetings will arrive after St. Patrick’s Day, so be it.
This will sound ridiculous, but one of my favorite parts of the sending ritual is addressing each envelope. Whether I write the address out by hand, or use a printed label, I think about the recipient, acknowledging our relationship and offering a silent blessing. As I put the cards together, I think about how our paths crossed: preschool, college, church, work, kids, family camp, basketball, foosball, and pool halls. They represent a variety of faiths and alma maters. There are new-this-year-but-already-cherished names on the list. Also family members and longtime friends I have never known life without. They live all over the place. Some whose devastating losses and silent struggles I am aware of. Many whose difficult times I will not know about until years from now, if at all. Most of them are people who stuck with us through our own darkest days. Several have achieved success and acclaim and great love. Quite a few of my nearest and dearest, I am sorry to say, hold regrettable political views. Some of my favorites are even Patriots. I know, scandalous. Nearly all of them have celebrated life with us – weddings, birthdays, graduations, bat mitzvahs, new jobs and New Years. I marvel at the extent of my community. Their diversity and tenacity and kindness inspire me.
Sadly, almost every year, I remove a name or two from the list, those who, though dearly loved and greatly missed, can no longer be reached by post. I take an extra moment to hold these dear ones – too many this year – in my heart. To honor the light each has brought to my life, to wish them well. Like my husband, I believe that it is not too late to offer good wishes. And yet, this reminder that we do not know how much time we might have together motivates me to get the much-belated-but-no-less-heartfelt cards on their way.
I make a pot of tea, because the list is long. I even light a candle this year. I will get them done. Even though it will take a bit longer this year, because I am bound to screw up several addresses. And I will pause frequently to feed the ancient cat.
Wishing you light and strength. And belated but heartfelt holiday greetings!