[On each Sunday in Advent this year, I am sharing some of my favorite Christmas columns from the past 25 years. This is the third of four.]
The night falls fast. Like a proscenium curtain – heavy, velvet – loosed from its restraining ropes and tumbling to the floor of the stage. Just moments ago there was still a thin line of neon orange trembling along the horizon. Not now. Now it is hard dark.
On the other side of the sky, as though its rising forced the orange line to sink, is the full moon. In the presence of wispy clouds it looks as though it is shivering, as I am, in the cold. Just a little shiver. A little chill.
A little like Christmas.
I have visitors tonight. Adam and Jackson are silhouettes in the spill of light, hands in pockets, booted feet spread wide. I have become accustomed to the invisible fingers that grab my throat every time I see them like this, every time I have to blink at least twice to remember that the man, not the boy, is my boy.
Jackson and his sister and their cousin are the great delights of my life, this strange season of my life I’ve yet to understand, but there remains a deep poignance to the memories of their father, their mother as children. Especially at Christmas.
And it is moments like these – not the twinkling light moments, the tinkling glass moments, the jingling and mingling moments – that feel most like Christmas. The minor chord moments, sad and plaintive, a little out of tune, are the ones that draw me toward the manger with its overwhelmed teenagers and astonished shepherds.
Inside, where the only decoration is an advent wreath with cattywampus candles, Jackson proclaims that he and I can get the tree from the shed. That we don’t need the help of his dad, the heft of the big-tired, extended cab pick-up truck. Armed against the night and what might be roaming armadillos with nothing but a flashlight, we shuffle across the wet grass. “Whoa!” he exclaims when he sees the boxes of ornaments stacked on plastic shelves. “You’ve got a lot of decorations!”
“Yep,” I tell him, “but first the tree.”
The artificial pine comes apart easily. Jackson hoists the top two sections over his head like the Stanley Cup and starts toward the house; I follow with the fatter bottom third, the flashlight swinging, throwing weak shards of light through the bare tree branches, guiding this boy, who is also mine.
The tree goes up, the lights come on. We carefully hang the ornaments. Jackson picks his favorite – a blown-glass nautilus shell studded with glitter and rhinestones. He gasps when I show him one that is 45 years old. To hang the star, he climbs my highest stool and leans in as far as he can. My job is to hold him steady.
He climbs down with a big smile and a bigger sense of accomplishment. I feel it moving through me, the minor chord progression to major. Even now the manger is expanding to make room for exultant angels and extravagant magi. Even, I pray, in a few days, me.
Copyright 2019, 2021