Anno DominiPosted: December 8, 2011
The first guest to my brand new home came yesterday, bearing a large velvety-red poinsettia. This may be my only Christmas tree, I told her. We sat and chatted and made plans to do lunch and take a tour of my new town.
This Christmas will be the first in my lifetime that I will not decorate a tall evergreen with all the traditional ornaments. In my house there are no signs of Christmas. There are only brown boxes, some packed, some empty. My house rings of life processes that speed forward and do not slow down for the season.
It takes me back to a Christmas sometime in the mid-1980s. My father had a heart attack two days after the Pearl Harbor anniversary—the attack which took him into a world war. This time, though, he was fighting a critical battle for life, air-lifted out of our small Delta town to Baptist Memorial in Memphis. He had quintuple bypass surgery six days before Christmas. That season, my family spent mostly in the hospital, dealing with the fragility of life. My friends back home kept expressing their sorrow that I was having to spend Christmas this way, and I kept wanting to say, No, you’re wrong, it’s not like that.
In the hospital lobby there was a tall shape of a Christmas tree made out of strategically stacked poinsettias, a large circle at the bottom, tapering, rising up to a point, with one red plant at the top, and all I saw was a reminder: Emmanuel, God with us.
“God with us” during this frightening life change.
How I needed that reminder at a time when my core was being shaken. I almost lost the head of our family unit, the one who held us together, I thought, the one we counted on. With any twitch in the rhythm of his heartbeat, I could still lose him. What then, if the walls of the foundation fell?
Now, those walls have not only shifted, they are gone, everybody older and above me is gone, and I am at the top of the pyramid. It feels cold and funny up here, knowing that I am the matriarch of the remaining family, and I am next in line to fall. In the meantime, it’s lonely up here.
And it’s lonely without the familiar. Five days ago, I moved away from familiar places and people of sixteen years. I knew what time my neighbors got up in the morning, what time they went to bed at night, how much time they devoted to hobbies or work or smoking a cigarette on the front porch. This holiday, everything is new, like the fresh Christ-child of old, and it is a time to start over, or to start recalculating time.
What better reminder than to see the lights of Christmas in neighbor yards around me, to see white-lighted trees in every window, or to receive a velvety-red poinsettia that gently says, “Emmanuel, God with us.”
“God with me” during this frightening life change.