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At 4:41am Zoe came in to our room and stood by my side of the bed and asked me to tuck her back in because she had just had “a slightly bad dream.” I walked her back into her room and helped her rearrange the blankets. She turned on the Muppets Christmas cd on her iPod at low enough volume so as not to wake Zeke, but loud enough that I could still make out the reassuring Muppet singing when I returned to my room. Zoe’s wall is on the other side of our closet, which is currently completely empty (including floor and most of the drywall) because of recent water damage. For some reason I could not get back to sleep. Perhaps because I fell asleep while putting Zeke to bed at 8:30. Even after I laid him down, I was so groggy that I then fell asleep on the floor in the hall outside our bedroom door. Randy tried to wake me up but I was confused and I think I said something rude to him (sorry, babe) and lay there for a while until I could rouse myself to brush my teeth and take my vitamins and fall into bed.
So this morning at 5 I was wide awake, thinking of things undone. Not that it’s unusual to lie in bed and think of things undone, but since today is Christmas Eve, there is more than usual to do, and I’ve just been in denial. A month ago yesterday my mom had a stroke, and continues to deal with expressive aphasia. Our family life has been disrupted, to put it mildly. We are immensely thankful that she didn’t suffer more severe consequences from the stroke, but I would be lying if I said things were back to normal. Meanwhile, we experienced the aforementioned water damage, which has caused us to basically rearrange our house while the crisis was resolved. The real repairs have not yet been done, so we are still in a state of disarray, although we’ve tried to make it as liveable as possible, even though we will have to rearrange it all again once we get a contractor in to fix the ceilings, build a new closet, and install new flooring throughout the house. So this is a nuisance, to be sure, but I think I’ve been less worried about it (although still annoyed) because relatively speaking, the house issues shrink in the shadow of more meaningful issues like my mom’s health.
A few weeks ago in church the service [scroll down to sermon archives and select December 13 if you want to watch] was about our church delegation’s trip to Guatemala to spend time with people there who have endured decades of oppression, abuse, and marginalization at the hands of their government (trained by the US) and international corporations (based in the US). The altar and the entrance to the sanctuary were surrounded by cardboard boxes bearing the addresses of locations in Guatemala where human remains of persecuted people have been rescued from mass graves. Forensic technicians, who Rev. Aaron aptly called angels, are working to identify the remains to return them to their families.
Suffering seems to come in small, medium, and large right now and each example may shift to a different category depending on what else happens. My mom’s stroke relegated the water damage and resulting chaos in my house to medium because aphasia is LARGE. But Guatemala, the recent anniversary of Sandy Hook and the colossal, wasteful spectre of violence looms even LARGER. And regardless of the size of the problems, they all need to be addressed. I still had to figure out how to make dinner for my family when the light fixture in our kitchen was out. Randy has been replacing bulbs all over the house, including those CFLs that are supposed to last seven years but certainly don’t in our house. Yesterday we got a new toilet and a new flange (more expensive than you’d think!) because when the plumber took out the old toilet he discovered the flange was rusted through. No, we don’t want sewer gasses seeping into our house, thank you. This year we’ve had to replace all kinds of stuff, and we just hand over our credit card again and again. But at the same time, we are alive and free to live our lives basically however we want. We are not oppressed, or threatened by the government that we or our loved ones will be arrested, imprisioned, tortured, or killed because we are trying to defend our land or keep our community from being poisoned.
Everybody has something they’re dealing with. Divorce, illness, a terrible job, isolation, grief. I hear a lot of these stories lately, from people I love. Also it’s been raining here all week. But we did put up a Christmas tree. Zoe and I put on the lights and most of the ornaments ourselves one night while Randy was putting Zeke to bed. We saved some of their favorites for them to put on the next day. And all of us worked together, or in pairs, to put up Christmas lights outside our house on the night of the Winter Solstice. We are making our small contribution to drive out the darkness and the gloom with little colored lights. We’re just leaving them on all the time because we need that little bit of illumination.
We didn’t do an advent calendar this year, or put together a gingerbread house. We didn’t make latkes or play dreidel but we did celebrate Hanukkah (and I did make latkes for my book club). Zoe arranged all her nativity sets on the mantel and hung the stockings with care. We do have presents, although I haven’t wrapped a single one yet. We did make cookies, thanks to my aunt’s initiative. We haven’t finished the Christmas letter yet, but I did write my mom’s portion, based on her sketchy instructions. We did buy and wrap Christmas presents for kids in need through our church’s tree. Some kids in DC and Arlington will have happier Christmases. I bought Target gift cards for families at Zoe’s school who needed a little extra help. We make a lot of charitable gifts in honor of our family members at Christmas. Tomorrow they will open envelopes with cards that say some homeless pets or homeless people or children in Haiti or children in the hospital were helped because of donations we made specifically for them. So this is what I can do. Christmas isn’t cancelled, even though it’s not exactly the Christmas we had in mind.
I think what I really need to do is have a family reading of How the Grinch Stole Christmas today. I need a reminder from the Whos down in Whoville.
Welcome Christmas. Bring your cheer,
Cheer to all Whos, far and near.
Christmas Day is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to grasp.
Christmas Day will always be
Just as long as we have we.
Welcome Christmas while we stand
Heart to heart and hand in hand.