26 December, 2008

This Christmas was an intersection of the past and the future; very little was thought about the present as the two arms of time caught us and spun us around and around. We are still reeling and still trying to sort the bittersweet pieces of the day. Were more of them joyful, or sad? I don't always see a great distinction, actually.

My brother proposed to his girlfriend. I awoke to a text message announcing that she said yes. We began the day light-headed from sleep deprivation and joy over the first official extension of the family. Chip will be the first of all us cousins - the first of this generation of Marvin, Heidel, Pickett descendants - to marry and pass on this name. Maybe years from now Chip and Ellen will tell their children about how they married young with hardly anything to call their own, but supremely content because they never wanted to be united with anyone else. I am sorry their children won't be able to see what I can see on this day: the joy and tears in the eyes of the in-laws, the wonder ("Now we are coming full-circle") in my widowed grandmother's eyes, the speechless, proud awe on my cousin's face.

My aunt, Dad's oldest sister, has cancer. We don't know what to expect of the coming year, and her broken sentences and frequently-wet cheeks made no secret of this uncertainty. As we raised our glasses to one new joint life, we were indulging in nostalgia over one that is trying not to wane. Most of the gifts exchanged between the adult siblings were revivals of gag gifts from their childhood. Inside jokes we laugh along with, but can't fully share. I watched my father open an ornament that had been his favorite as a child; an angel aiming a slingshot (at his sisters, dad used to imagine). I watched him laugh, and I wished I could know what he looked like as a little boy stealthily crouching by the Christmas tree, choosing a target for his angel (Sue? or Dianne? or the dog?), and conjuring up in his head an epic battle in which weaponless sisters would surrender and do Chucky's bidding for a month. Similarly, my mother's family gives gifts steeped in the memory of past family homes, favorite childhood toys, and obscure references to family history. Despite photographs, letters, and the odd home video, there are some things that we can only pretend to know about the people who handed life to us. Though they are still a tangible presence, they are legends, mythical beings, in some ways. They carry a whole past that is only shadows and tales to me, but must be called to the forefront every Christmas to remind them who and why they are.

This wasn't a Christmas for thinking about myself (when should it ever be?). It was one for being reminded of what has shaped my predecessors, why they are the way they are, what splendid strands of their lives they have chosen to preserve, and how those choices affect my generation. What strands will my siblings and I hold onto? What sort of grand tapestry of legends and lessons will we fold around our children before ushering them into their own stories?

15 December, 2008

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridge to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with out mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in the office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark thought it is.

-W.S. Merwin

14 December, 2008

My life is full of routines, but not many rituals. Hours are broken up into segments, each segment filled with a task, that task simply serving as a springboard to the next. And so the hours pass without being really lived in or given meaning.

Lately I've taken to lighting candles at bedtime. This is the one time of day in which I am quite alone, quite silent, unhurried. It is a time to claim, to ritualize. The light of three small candles is so unobtrusive compared to electric light. It is concentrated in these little pillars and prompts me to gather my far-flung thoughts back into my little self.

I lie back with a Book of Hours and in the candlelight read about the Light of the World. For the first time, I actually grasp the strength of this name for the Messiah. The people of the ancient world (His world) saw nothing after night fell without moonlight, starlight, or fire of their own making. If none of these were to be had, they were helpless and in submission to the darkness til morning came. Imagine what a mental image this name, "Light of the World," would summon up in them. Imagine living in a world in which light and dark are severely, mercilessly delineated, and receiving news of a Light great enough for the whole world. Imagine a night so dark that one star could be a trustworthy guide. In my electric place and time, I can't fully imagine or know. So I like this ritual - plunging myself into the primeval darkness of night, making myself dependent upon this flame. It burns so confidently. Its rays are wide enough to illumine the words I need to read, the words that tell of the Light without which nothing in this world makes sense to me. The light brings to my mind the light of glory that shone at Christ's baptism, tearing the sky with purpose. All heaven broke loose when the sky was rent by Light, and the world was never the same.

Last night I fell asleep without blowing out the candles. I awoke and panicked thinking of the fire that could have been; but then I laid back feeling comforted by the thought that they had been beside me in the darkness all through the night. I hope that with each year I improve at observing this season through other time-honored rituals. But I think the candles - stars brought down to my bedside to give meaning to my falling-asleep moments - are a good start.

13 December, 2008

I'm trying to write more frequently, but such concerted efforts never seem to produce anything very genuine. So I have been unfaithful to my blog, throwing away half-written letters, never returning its calls, rarely meeting up like we used to. I haven't broken up with it yet because I hold onto the slight hope that I'll have something worthwhile to say someday. For now, watch this, and then go buy the album.