Christmas passed

“How could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Dear great…. granddaughter,

Here I sit in the early morning, 3 days post -Christmas, and not only has the Day passed, but so has the anxiety and pain that came along with the lead up to it. As things went the holy-days filled up with blessing upon blessing, despite -and perhaps because of- it not looking a thing like Christmases past. No physical gathering, no physical touch, no sharing of meals, yet intimacy and connection still somehow unfolded within the day’s embrace.

Packages were opened, virtually, after having been dropped on doorsteps in the monsoon-like rains of Christmas eve. “Appointments’ were made with each of our children’s families (so there were 7 of them in all) to meet, both one-on-one and as a whole, which made the 24 hours of Christmas eve and Christmas day quite full indeed.

Strangely, however, the computer somehow allowed for a disconnection from the material gifts, and an opening to one another’s presence, as opposed to their presents. Quieter conversations were enabled in the small ‘face-to-face’ meetings, outside of the chaos of more typical large gatherings. Even within the large screen mayhem of 7 households joining to open Secret Santa gifts, it was suddenly plain to see that the gift exchange is always really a means to an end- to get all of us to settle into one space in order to attend to one another, individually, within that large circle of belonging.  The packages, of course, are never the meaning, no matter how we stress over desiring to make some meaningful connection through that giving and receiving of gifts. It is about being seen— and the gift giving is merely the frame for containing that desire.

In the end, it was the gift of conversation this Christmas that I will cherish, long after those packages are forgotten. And while that didn’t happen so much in the large zoom gathering of all of those combined households, which in so many ways mimicked the chaos (Grinch would call it the ‘noise, noise, noise, noise!’) of an actual gathering of us all- with people talking over one another, and me being unable to pick up on what is being said across the room- I found that if I put myself on mute and just gazed upon them all, the deep joy of witnessing that abundance filled me.  Catching a glimpse of my own face from time to time on that screen, I noted my beaming countenance. That is a lesson for me of the posture I might assume in the future at such large gatherings of family— the sitting back to gaze in wonder at it all, not in a zoning out, but in a taking in the of the abundance.

Too often, I suspect, I have been looking for intimacy in the midst of those festivities, where that is truly impossible— looking for love in all the wrong places, or should I say, looking for the wrong kind of love, because the feeling I had on Christmas day was definitely one of Love. This was a setting aside of my ‘need’ to be seen in order to see, my ‘need’ for intimacy in order to receive abundance, gratitude, and joy. By being with the whole of it, embracing all of them, I realized the message I had received in the Newberry Award winning children’s book, which I had read a few days prior to Christmas, before gifting it to one of my granddaughters, “Love is not divided, It is multiplied!”

For so many years, I have thought of my love as needing to be divided in so many ways, and have so felt that there was never enough of me to go around. I have lamented not being able to develop the closer intimacies that I have observed in my friends’ relationships with their smaller families, which have enabled them to be more involved, to say ‘yes’ more easily within the confines of one finite human life.  I have, most often sadly, acknowledged the inherent differences between being a parent/grandparent of a large family versus a small one. I can’t possibly be with/for all of mine in the same way I see other women can. There is inherently more sacrificed in a large family, in so many ways, but what I realized more fully this season, is that there is also inherently more abundance.

There were precious one-on-one moments too, which occurred in the necessary scheduling of time–as in the sitting around a tinsel tree, bundled to the hilt, in a driveway- and in the impromptu- a last minute invitation to take a  hike a few days later, the early morning day-after phone call, alike. That morning phone call from one of my sons felt a bit like pillow talk after the frenzy of lovemaking, and I shall, like Mary of old, cherish those things that I heard in my heart.  My husband also connected with one of his sons, because of that structure we set up of setting aside one-on-one space, in a way that he hasn’t in years, and in a way that felt like opening the door to a healing of the brokenness between them.  (He, too, typically sees him only in the context of the larger family gathering. )

For many years now, Don and I have been lamenting not having had the opportunity at Christmastime to connect one-on-one with any of our children, have talked about changing the way that we ‘do’ Christmas. As full as those individual meetings with our families made of our overly scheduled day (I burnt every meal I tried to put on the table for the 2 of us because of those ‘distractions’, which made me realize too, how much energy is wasted around that particular striving– to offer the perfect holiday feast— when it is the gathering around the table for nurture, which is the point of that endeavor.), we learned that there was something in that instinct to change that was right. Oh, how often is it that we feel the urge to change but cannot affect it until the change is thrust upon us from outside of our control! I thank Covid for that.

For too many years, I have experienced the common post-Christmas let down, as that one day could never hold all those old worn-out expectations of mine — that it be a place of intimate connection for me, where I felt, perhaps, like I did as a child when, for that one day of the year, I felt attended to, seen,  beloved – when the gift was just right, as if the person truly knew me, or vice versa was received by the other as if they deeply valued me.  I have been trying to get, perhaps, what is impossible for one day to give.

And so, this holy human longing, which comes out so vulnerably at Christmas time for so many of us, and then leaves us feeling raw and exposed, strangely empty, or bereft, as if we are on the outside of something ‘looking in’ at what we imagine others are feeling or receiving, may be because we are asking it to provide the wrong thing, something innately impossible given its structure, especially in large families. You know what they say about expectation, after all.

What the day can offer, for me, I realized , is this stepping back – not as in being on the outside looking in, but to gaze in wonder at the abundance in the chaotic multiplication of Love in this place. That feels like maturity to me. That feels like Love to me, too. That feels a bit like Godde to me.  Synchronistically, the gift that my son, in that early ‘morning-after’ phone call, gave to me was his wonder and gratitude for the way I have been a loving presence in his life, simply watching in Love and letting him make his own journey without censure, knowing he his always beheld in that Love .

And, yet, I cannot leave my reflection of the day without acknowledging that my heart remaind heavy for one in our family, whom I deeply cherish, who is feeling so isolated and alone, especially so this year, without a human source for this deeper intimacy, this being known and seen in the ‘one soul to one soul’ way that human beings so need. How painful Christmas is for her, how she always feels like she is on the outside looking in at the closeness she perceives in others, craving their relationships like a starving ghost. And I think I understand that feeling in her just a little bit more than I did yesterday.  While she may be able to grasp, one day, this gazing in Love at the abundance of family, she does not yet have in her life the balancing, deepening, healing experience of that one deep, loving heart-to-heart connection.  My heart continues to break open for her in that longing.

I know a Source where I can go to be seen and received, which is not an external one, but perhaps that is far too easy for me to say, because I also have the intimacy of human love. And although all of us are truly alone (we can never fully be known by another) my own loneliness is not so prevalent a feeling in my life. I so long for her to know this human intimacy too. May it be so…..

So, yes, Christmas came and went, despite, or because of, the loss of Christmas. Isn’t it ‘funny’ how being stripped of something will do that ? – help you see past the clutter that was burying it to find the nugget of gold? How loss is so often succeeded by unexpected and previously unknown gifts? How we resist changing, and how blessed we are, in the end, by being changed?

And how the human heart… with all of its grief and longing and sorrow, hope and joy and love…. is always the gift to be unwrapped.

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