When we were kids the holidays were a magical time. A time when we still believed in Santa Claus and the miracle of gifts that arrived down a chimney by a mythical character and flying reindeer. Nothing needed to make sense – we just believed.
Fast forward to adulthood. For so many I know, the holidays means spending time with family. And that can be stressful. Old grievances rear their heads. Old slights. Old hurts. Old baggage that fills the car as we make our way to the family gathering spot – Grandma’s house. It’s too hot inside and too cold outside. The current political situation is just the match to the tinder box of emotions waiting to alight for another year.
The old commercials and holiday specials on t.v. tell us that we’re supposed to find Christmas perfection in the decorations, and family gatherings, and that other families are enjoying seeing each other. Kith and Kin. Ours must surely be the only exception. But of course that’s not true. I don’t know one family that looks like those coffee commercials from the 80’s or Hallmark movies.
On Friday my Dad was taken to the hospital via an ambulance. We are at the end now. I flew north from Arizona and am now ensconced in my old bedroom, again. My son, Nick, came down on the train from Seattle and Jeff and Emilie will be here on two different flights 12 hours apart. My brother, Todd, will be coming in from Toronto with his son. My eldest brother, Bob, lives a mile away with his son and grand kids. But my sister, Maggie, will not make it from Florida. This is it – my Dad is at the end.
In the past, a collection of our family would result in a wrestling match of some kind on the living room floor. The word ‘fucker’ would be mumbled at the very least to each other through gritted teeth. But now that we’re all ‘adults’ it would invariably be said within earshot of our Mother, who would pretend she didn’t hear it while she tried to stuff us all full of food. The ribbing and the reminders of old boyfriends/girlfriends, bad haircuts and high school escapades would be center stage.
But this time that will not happen. This time it’s different. This Christmas is a time for reflection. And a reminder that time is precious and there isn’t an infinite supply. And this year it’s a time for forgiveness.
I’m not sure how one family could have so many people with dominant personalities. It’s seems like that would be impossible – or against the laws of nature. In a wolf pack there is only one Alpha male and one Alpha female. That’s just how it goes. But in my family, we were all Alphas. Hence the wrestling, I guess. And a group that strong is a recipe for explosions, and their aftermath. And explosions scatter debris – and we all scattered. Across the country and across the globe.
Sure, college and jobs took us away. Adventure is a good reason to move and to not find the time to come back – even for occasions that should matter. And it means that you can push all the things that had you leave in the first place into the background. You don’t have to think about it. You’re busy with climbing the ladder, raising a family, paying bills. Hey, you’ve got stuff to do. Big priorities. And you have no time. I always think of that song ‘Cat’s in the Cradle.’
But then something happens that makes you stop and take stock. And a parent dying will do that for you. All the things that were so important suddenly don’t feel that way. The things that pissed you off about your upbringing aren’t what you think of when you look at the old diminished man lying in the bed. So small now you could pick him up yourself – like he could blow away in the wind. Suddenly, that thing your brother did to you in high school, that seemed to surface every time you saw him, isn’t what you think about when you see his face with more wrinkles than you remember, and more grey (and less) hair than the last time. Wrestling isn’t on the menu this Christmas.
This time we will remember that we’re family. We’ll circle around our parents and grand parents, all of us. Kids ,grand kids, and great grand kids. We’ll remember why we’re here. We aren’t 15 anymore and death is serious business. We don’t get to be ‘fuckers’ this time – any of us.
My Mom told me she just wanted one thing for Christmas. Not anything she could blend, wear or touch. She wants forgiveness to reign. ‘It’s time.’ she told me. And she’s right, of course. It’s past time for it. I know her – she’s a master. She’ll make it seem like it wasn’t’ her idea – but it was. And she’s already found ways to facilitate it.
This year the gifts won’t be store bought. They’ll be hard fought. When I walked the Camino with Jeff in October, I walked it for my Dad and registered his name in Santiago when I got the Compostella on his behalf. I brought the Latin certificate with me from Valencia, along with the shell I carried for him and the Pilgrim’s passport – intending to give them to him for Christmas. I took them to the framing shop when I got here to get them mounted, so he could see them from his bed. I thought I had time to get this done, but it won’t be ready until January 4th and I fear that will be too late.
Time is a fickle mistress. But in the end, if its within our power – forgiveness shouldn’t be hard to give. Either to ourselves or others. Because we never know how much time we have on this planet. Wasting it on old grudges seems like such a waste. And even a pack of wolves is still family, after all.