It’s Christmas time. A week from the Big Day. And my heart is heavy.
It happens to me some years. The wonderful joy and excitement that usually wraps around me like a present fails to materialize and I am left off-balance, moody and uncertain.
Perhaps it’s the weather. While it’s been incredibly similar to the Original Christmas in Bethlehem, it’s been not at all like a traditional Christmas in the Midwest. In fact, it’s been so odd as to feel downright spring-like! Days mild and soft and tap dancing into the sixties and nights so warm an overshirt or light jacket more than suffices for warmth when feeding the animals. We’ve had several lovely frosts that looked hand-painted and glorious. And they’ve disappeared as quickly as the sun rose, leaving the grass damp and bewildered, wondering if it should sleep now or grow?
Perhaps it is the absence of my father. This is my first Christmas without him and I miss him dearly. In some ways, he was an odd man. He was a Middle East Intelligence officer in the Army and we lived in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia during his career. When he and my mother divorced, he married a Jewish woman and they spent almost thirty years happily together. While he retained his Christian beliefs, he also adopted her Jewish ones, something the synagogue they joined didn’t mind, but the church he attended saw as a source of umbrage.
Dad loved this time of year. Presents, surprises, happiness and good food abounded as he and his wife celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas. His expressions towards his children were more subdued, but no less earnest. Every year, he picked out Christmas cards for each of us that expressed what was in his heart, what he wanted to say to us. Usually, they only contained two hand-written words: “Love, Dad.” They more than gift enough.
On Christmas Day, each of us would call him. I’ve heard calls with fathers being described as “calls with mothers but with only one-tenth the details.” That was certainly true with me and Dad, and yet, the love and connection that we shared more than made up for the usually more subdued calls. He took a terrific interests in the things we did, offered occasional advice.
Maybe everyone’s father is really Santa Claus. Mine was for me. What I wouldn’t give to have one more card arrive signed, “Love, Dad.”
Perhaps my less than elated Christmas spirit is also damped a bit by Mum not being here. When she decided late last summer to come to live with me and make her home here, she planned a pre-Thanksgiving arrival. However, that didn’t happen. In tying up the loose ends that come with having lived in the same home for thirty-five years, she found that a few could not be wrapped up as neatly as she had hoped. She had to postpone the move.
Now, she is coming in January. It will be beyond grand having her here, sharing heart and hearth and happiness with her. But, oh, how grand it would have been to have her here at Christmas!
As it is, we will no doubt continue to talk frequently on the phone as the holiday nears, topping it off with a good Christmas Day call, full of happy news of family and friends and much love and good cheer. Then, to follow, she will come with the New Year and we will work together to fill 2016 and beyond with abundant joy. Still… I do wish she was here now.
Perhaps it is world events that has darkened my mood. They can weigh heavily on my heart. While there is much injustice that can be healed through kind and peaceful means, anger and violence around the world seem to be winning the day. It is so pervasive now that it can be hard for me to remember that it is an illusion.
Contrary to what stone-faced nightly news anchors and bloviating politicians and ticked off Facebook posters might suggest, anger and violence are most definitely not winning day.
Certainly not here. Not in America and not in our Ozarks. We are still going about our business, greeting friends and neighbors, working, shopping in stores, waving “hello” from behind the steering wheel of our cars, bringing remembrances to gravesites, hugging our loved ones and playing with our pets. We are doing the things we need to do and helping others and worshiping as we see fit.
All of that said, even with a subdued Christmas spirit, there is still much hope for a joyous holiday. The fine folks at the weather bureau say that beginning tonight, the temperatures are expected to become more seasonal for the Midwest – making it feel more “Christmas-y.” More and more Christmas carols are playing on the radio, making it much more pleasant than the television. More importantly, and so much more uplifting: There are friends and my Ozark family, beloved Bert and Dean Scherer, still be visited. There are calls to be made and random acts of kindness to perform.
And really, it is not our singular activities that bring joy to our Christmas. It is the time spent with others. In fellowship. In worship. In honoring. In celebrating.