I took my Christmas tree down this week, setting my all-time record for putting off a day I hate. I have martialed all my excuses: It was a beautiful tree. I needed the lights to remind me that this is season of hope. My cat got sick. I had to attend a retreat earlier this month. But, while all of that is true, I confess I held onto that tree because Christmas itself seemed so fleeting this year.
People blamed it on a late Thanksgiving. But for my family, at least, there was more to it than that. My brother-in-law passed away in early December and the loss has hit all of us who knew and loved him hard. He was the smartest, kindest, most generous man I ever encountered, a man who worked with his hands (who could fix almost anything) and always reasoned with both his brain and his heart. His cancer was diagnosed as my husband died in 2012. Their treatments ran almost parallel, but Albert survived his and spent every minute of every following day loving his family and my own.
As brightly as the lights on my tree shown, every glance at it reminded me of the lights that are missing from my life. I can hear it now, give it now, the sermon about how the coming of Jesus transforms all loss and fills every human void with hope. But this year, it felt like Christmas was bearing down on me as relentlessly as the steam engine that pulled the Polar Express. And, if I am honest, it ran me over. Weeks later, it feels like I am putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward one step at a time. I know from experience this strategy works for me. In time.
Meanwhile, I pray for all people who were, for one reason or another, not able to receive the gift of Christmas. There are, I suspect, a lot of us. And I hope that next year will be different.