Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas in the Northwest and Other Unexpected Gifts... Or, a Love Song to my Family

The Beloved "Ex," Eldest Daughter, "Boyfriend," Youngest Daughter

It’s 7:30 on Christmas Eve morning and warm and cozy inside my daughter and her boyfriend’s home. The stockings are hung, brightly wrapped presents are piled beneath the tree, muffled voices and the aroma of coffee reach me down the short hall. Outside is a handsome Pacific Northwest mix: dry, cold and frosty, and in one direction looking out the window misty fog swirls in and around the tops of big, beautiful evergreens; in another, pink clouds hang delicately in the early morning sky. My dog Jasper is curled up next to me on the down-filled comforter, his small, round, warm, furry body next to mine a serious sensory comfort and pleasure. The rest of the family is spread out throughout the house, some awake, some still in peaceful slumber.

We would never have guessed - as we gathered last year for what we knew, on whatever level each of us was able to really take it in, was our final Christmas as a “traditional” family, the last in our family home; most likely, we imagined, the last where we would all wake up under the same roof and sit, bleary-eyed in PJs and sweats, drinking coffee and hot chocolate, emptying stockings, ripping into presents - that we would find ourselves in a position to be sharing Christmas so intimately once again this year.

Our eldest daughter relocating with her boyfriend to the Seattle area last spring was a last straw for me. It was another piece of the dream shattered, and felt, at the time, like one loss, one huge change too many in way too short a time. And coming on top of everything else, sent me tumbling into a well of serious depression. I have heard many times over the years that in written Chinese, the character for crisis is the same as for opportunity. I have no idea if it’s actually true, and yet I do know that life can often times work exactly that way. It was my “crisis” of her moving away that led directly to me going to Moloka’i. It has also paved the way for being together in a new and different and very pleasurable way; “visiting” for days at a time, waking up again in the same space, sharing quiet conversation over morning coffee and tea, walking, shopping, eating together. Like when they were little except with the added bonus of her now being a grown woman, and the wholly new and rich way of connecting that that offers.

And now, here we are for six days at Christmas. Waking up together. Being together in all that that entails: In our perfection and our imperfection, when it is smooth and effortless and sheer joy, when it is hard and challenging. In all the faces of being humans in a human family—when we are happy, when we are sad, when we are upbeat and grateful, grumpy and irritable, supportive and understanding; when we crave our own space, and can’t stand the sight of each other for another moment, when we erupt like Mount Vesuvius, when we share memories that tug at our hearts and bring tears to our eyes, or collapse us in fat, round giggles. In all of it, I am aware of the bottomless river that runs beneath us, that flows on and on with poignant love and caring, and the deepest connection carved only through the years of living, being, growing, and facing what’s come together.

We’ve been listening to a radio station that is playing all Christmas music. Every half hour or so, they interview and give different types of gifts to people who are facing challenges this holiday season. Loved ones ill or separated by thousands of miles; many away serving our country. In the news, the cold that is returning here to the Northwest and the concern for the homeless population, the volunteers that are assembling and getting out to help them find warmth and relative safety. The man reunited after five years with his son who has been in Brazil; the sudden death of a young and vibrant actress; heart-wrenching commercials asking that we give a child a chance through St. Jude's.

It is all so extraordinarily relative. And while I know that it’s really true that our pain is our pain, I don’t have to look far for perspective to change; to see that truly, there is so little to grumble about, so very much to be grateful about. So much to enjoy. And everything beyond being together, simply everything else, is gravy, or for those with more of a sweet tooth, lucious frosting on an otherwise sublime decadent chocolate cake.

I began this Christmas Eve morning, I finish it early on Christmas. Another beautiful morning in the Northwest. Annie's in the kitchen putting on the coffee. Greg is building a fire. Jasper's curled up once again against my leg. Katie sleeps on in the next room and Chris is somewhere beginning his morning downstairs. Outside it is still, everything covered in a beautiful coat of crystalline frost. A gorgeous "white" Christmas. Soon, we'll be tearing into stockings, ripping open presents, hot cups in our hands, cameras flashing, fire crackling.

Truly, what more could anyone ask for?

Blessings & Peace

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