“Christmas is not a time, nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”
~ Calvin Coolige
First, there was a funeral. One I didn’t attend, because I was still recovering from a bad cold, and I was only 6…yet one I participated in nonetheless. My beloved grandfather left us a few days before Christmas eve, while he sat across from me in the living-room and smiled, and I played a song for him on my toy harmonica. In the blink of an eye, his head fell back on the armchair and he was gone. No sweet angels, no little Jesus or merciful Mary listened to my prayers that day. It was my first brutal encounter with utter loneliness and helplessness…for as a child, I believed in miracles and trusted completely that all I had to do was ask with all my heart, and the gods would step in to the rescue.
Years later, on the same night, there was a wedding. Christmas eve was chosen so as to create a happy milestone that would balance out the loss that never stopped casting a heavy shadow over what should be a joyous holiday. It worked. For quite a while, every Christmas eve remained a celebration, an anniversary of something gained, not lost. Children came into the picture too, and brought a sparkle and level of joy that need no explanation.
And now, a week before Christmas, the last step was completed towards finalizing a divorce. A metaphor for another funeral of sorts I suppose. And although the circumstances are as good as can be by even the most optimistic of standards, I was left with a deep sense of unease. It seems a cycle was completed, one that began with loss and ended with loss. I guess what I’m saying is that for the first time in decades, I was not sure what exactly I was celebrating at Christmas time.
And so I’ve been thinking I need another milestone, some gift from the benevolent gods. Honestly, I was thinking something really magnificent and amazing…I don’t know, another wedding perhaps, or at least one in the works? Diamond rings and mistletoe, a princess dress and a beautiful party, champagne and moonlight dancing…ok, you get the picture. Or maybe just a winning lottery ticket. That would work too.
Feeling dangerously close to the way I felt when I was 6, I bought a “I believe in Santa” t-shirt from Target of all places, and I’ve been wearing it faithfully so as to absorb some of its magic power. But nothing happened. Until I was driving home tonight, and got stuck in a traffic jam because of an accident that blocked two out of three lanes on the road. As I started to merge over, the car behind me pulled in, clearly not intending to let me through. And so, as one who learned to drive in the mad traffic of Manhattan, I continued to inch in closer, paying no attention to the car behind me. If you don’t do that in NY, you will never, ever, actually move forward.
Of course it worked, it always does. And then it dawned on me that what happens in traffic is exactly what happens in life. If you keep looking back every time you want to move, whatever doubts, fears, painful experiences, or even good ones, will be there not really giving you the room to merge onto your new path. So you have to turn your head, look forward, and slowly but decisively move. It’s the only way.
Well then, how about that for a miracle? I wasn’t all that convinced until I drove some more, and it occured to me that for the first time since I was a child of 6, Christmas could actually be about a state of mind…of being. And so I rushed to the computer, opened up a browser and there it was, the quote to match my own thoughts. How could it not make me smile?
As a child, my miracle could be nothing short of my grandfather not dying that night. As a young adult, my miracle could be nothing short of creating the perfect and ever lasting marriage. But my grandfather died, and my marriage was not perfect, nor ever lasting. And yet there is still Christmas. An entity onto itself, above and beyond our milestones of sadness or joy, an intangible something…greater than ourselves, where the luxury lies in depth of feeling, not in external assets.
A child was born on Christmas day. And what child is not divine, what birth is not miraculous? Maybe he was a god, maybe a mere mortal like us all. That we celebrate a birth, or perhaps a rebirth, is quite something. That we can recognize no matter what happens in our lives, we can always be renewed and cleansed and free to start over, to dream, to hope, to create and give even more…wow…what can be more amazing than that?
And so my Christmas miracle seems to be the birth of an even deeper capacity for courage, forgiveness, compassion, wisdom, and grace. Yes indeed. And they are not “things” or events, they are not to be found on store shelves or purchased or even received. One can only earn them, and guess what…I think this little girl just realized she really earned them…finally earned all that is Christmas.