Tuesday, December 25, 2007

There’s no forgetting Christmas

It’s a quiet Christmas morning.
We’re still in Lake Isabella, which wasn’t the way the plan was originally made.
(Make plans. Don’t plan outcomes.)
The original plan called for us to close on the townhouse last week, make a mad scramble to move in, and celebrate Christmas at the new place.
That didn’t work.
We’re not really sure what happened, but the closing got hung up in legal stuff on the end of the townhouse seller. The sign on the townhouse porch’s railing says “sold,” but that’s not quite true.
We’ve had two closing dates, and they both fell apart at the last minute. Part of me wants to use the word “nightmare,” but that’s way, way too strong.
“Nightmare” is what I saw on the way back from learning that the latest closing date had evaporated: A medical helicopter swooping down to land at Central Michigan Community Hospital, preparing to take someone to a trauma center or neurological intensive-care unit. “Nightmare” is what happened to a 17-year-old Mt. Pleasant High School student on Christmas Eve, when he rolled his 2007 Ski-Doo at high speed and suffered severe facial injuries. That also involved a helicopter ride.
“Nightmare” is what happened in Martiny Township last night – a 34-year-old woman is in jail facing felonious assault charges after deputies answered a “shots fired” complaint. (Usually that kind of stuff doesn’t happen until Christmas night, after people have spent all day getting drunk with the relatives they don’t like.)
“Nightmare” is what I saw as I drove by the cemetery across the tracks from the newspaper on Christmas Eve – a burial. There were probably 100 people gathered in the snow around a new grave, laying to rest a loved one they obviously did like.
Business has been good for my friends in the funeral business the last week or so. On Christmas Eve, six brand-new obituaries popped into my inbox.
Those kinds of traumas will echo for a very long time down through the generations of many families.
My own grandfather died 15 years before I was born. Ordinarily, that would make him a vague, shadowy figure I never knew – but he died on Christmas Day. I have to look up and make sure of the dates of my father’s death, my mother’s death, my brother’s death. But there’s no forgetting Christmas, and despite – or maybe because of -- my parents’ best efforts, that sheen of sadness and loss still permeates the holiday.
It doesn’t help that I work in two industries – the media and education – both with insanely busy times during December. The year’s profit for a publication all comes in December – and the college semester ends in December. Even without the holiday, everything’s busy, exhausting and mentally draining.
Add on the expectation of a Sparkle City Christmas, and things move close to the edge. Now toss in a mortgage and a move. Those are listed by a lot of mental health professionals as almost as stressful as the death of a loved one, physical illness or trauma, or divorce.
No, this delay isn’t really a nightmare. Maybe it’s a salvation, keeping all our heads from exploding. The closing delay is a paperwork problem, and it’s someone else’s problem besides. It will work, but it takes patience.
But tell that to Kissy Missy, who had dreamed of a perfect Christmas in the new house. Tell that to Andrew, whose last Christmas at home will be among the boxes stacked in the living room. Tell that to Katherine and Robert.
So we’re still here at Lake Is, the living room stacked with boxes, half of our stuff inaccessible, the rest unlocateable in the turmoil. The decorations remain packed – they were supposed to go up at the new place.
There are such great expectations for Christmas – a perfect family, perfect cookies, perfect decorations to complement a perfect meal in a perfect house. Well, we didn’t make it this year.
But what we have is a white Christmas, gorgeous snow in the woods and the fields. We have quiet, instead of stress. We have gifts, not lavish, but gifts nonetheless. A ham will go in the oven, potatoes on the stove, and the house will be warm.
And perhaps the biggest gift of all: A chance to rest, recuperate, be with each other without deadlines, without schedules, without trauma and tension and tardiness.
Besides, now we have 365 ½ days (2008 is a leap year) to get the next one right.

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