Where the love light gleams. I’m home for Christmas, that part is true. But it does feel a bit like a dream. I’m not completely here but I’d really like to be. After all, time is precious. I want to soak up the time I have left with my parents. All of it.
I sat in Christmas Eve church with my parents this evening. I believe in g/God about as much as I believe in elves at this point in my life but I went because it’s tradition and, although technically unspoken, very evident that my mother’s Christmas wish includes going to Christmas Eve church with whichever of her children may be home. All of four people in a congregation of about 150-200 were wearing masks, and two below their noses. This is a redneck (and red), steel mill and farming town. The virus is wholly and completely political here. It’s maddening but it is what it is. I was prepared for this earlier when I pasted on a smile, put down my book, curled my hair, and agreed to get in the car to go along.
My brother is also home this year, which is always welcome, but was doing husband duties with one of the three houses required in his in-law-visits any time they are home. Marrying a gal from our hometown when he lives 10hrs away should/could have been great but, a gal from a split home, with a grown brother who is also a single dad … there’s a lot going on. And those obligations always seem to get priority. We are an accommodating family by nature. So we take my brother when we can get him. It’s been eleven years. We are used to taking the leftovers and being authentically grateful.
Christmas church (like Christmas songs and movies) makes me nostalgic rather than joyful. And I always tear up during the service more than once, regardless of heartache (past or present). The poinsettias on the altar are always “in memory of” my grandparents and my uncle. I have no memories of my grandfather, who died the year I was born, but my grandma and my uncle were a daily part of my life until I left for college. We all lived on the same farm land. I saw them every day. And in 2002/3, I lost both of them, on that farm, within six months of each other. I have no shortage of childhood emotional trauma. But I was in my early 20s then and those losses felt different than the things that had come before. Insurmountable, really. I also lost both of them mere months before my first heartbreak. 2003 was an awful, awful year. And I cannot help but reflect on it every time I’m sitting on the hard, wooden church pew on Christmas Eve, looking at the flowers in honor of my family, staring up at the rafters of a beautiful narthex that served as backdrop for so much of my formative spiritual and social development, and listening to hymns that I can still almost viscerally hear my grandmother singing next to me. Though I haven’t actually heard her voice or felt her arms in nearly 20 years.
I also look around at all the familiar faces, but with more wrinkles and inches and shades of grey. The couples I remember as a child — often now permanently missing one part of what I always assumed would be an eternal pair. And “kids” who were toddlers when I was in youth group, are now balding, with beer bellies, mirror images of their dads & moms, with adolescent and even teenage children of their own. It’s always a little bizarre. As if I’m in some Scrooge-like vision of the future, only, I’m no longer a teenager or even a college kid. And yet, I’ve been experiencing this same future version of actual reality since I was in college. As if I’ve been watching life go by as reflected in everyone but myself, one Christmas Eve service at a time.
Sure, I notice that I am older. Obviously I see that I am 42 when I look in the mirror. And it is never lost on me that I am still “the single kid” tagging along with my parents to Christmas church, to family functions, to everywhere. I hate it. I’ve always hated it. I’ve always felt like an other. The years have passed but that feeling hasn’t.
It was so hard seeing the family of distant cousins in front of us, the parents about 15 years younger than mine, their three children, who farm the hillside across from ours, all married within the past five years, all with small children of their own. And tonight, the two boys, both with new baby boys of their own, only a couple months apart. We watched them coo and gurgle and smile from a few pews away. It makes me feel guilty not to be able to give that to my parents; they would be the world’s greatest grandparents! I think they were born for those roles. And yet, my brother and his wife seem content with just their dog. And me? I’m not content right now but I am trying to be. I try to play up my career and the fulfillment it gives me and downplay the singleness in any given year, but especially this year. This most recent bout of unbelievable betrayal is kind of too hard for me to fake.
I am grateful to be home, surrounded by people I love. But I am struggling a bit. I’m struggling to keep the melancholy at the periphery, to stay present, to stay gracious and patient. At this, the “happiest” time of the year.
Is this what he wanted? Is this the end game he hoped for? To shred the confidence and certainty and trust of someone who selflessly gave to him, and then when the illusion is broken, when his façade has been stripped away, he takes comfort in knowing that somewhere, two months later, that other someone is still sitting around wondering how they could have been so blind? Why they are spending yet another Christmas alone? While he’s spending his first Christmas Eve as a married man, to a woman I never knew existed.
If only in my dreams, right? That’s how the song goes so maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow and it will have all been a dream. Maybe, like Scrooge, I’ll get to wake up tomorrow and it will be twenty years ago and I’ll be able to get it right this time.
Music for the Mood: I’ll Be Home for Christmas – Michael Bublé