Can it Last?

Snow and cold are memories I cherish with such fervent velocity, it speeds me up. Christmas comes and I want to savor it, like I did when I was a boy in the Midwest and east. But like my damnable eating habits, formed more from 28 years of teaching, its compressed half-hour lunches pocked with myriad bits of paper-work, coverage of various duties and students interrupting and attempting to find something out, I move through it all too fast–and while attempting to slow down, point a lens and maybe share it with people I love, I fail. I don’t live in the snow anymore, but that’s OK. This year’s Christmas has been seasonably cold, for here. 

The Christmas lights of our town’s own “Candy Cane Lane,” called Gemini street, a staple since our daughter was two-years old, is now a mission. She still likes to go, and at almost 18, I feel blessed that she asks and that she wants to share it with me. We went three times this year, once with my wife and sister-in-law, a few of Shannon’s friends–a big group making noise and gregarious with large crowds, spilling off the sidewalk and veritably shouting “Merry Christmas” to each other across the street, smiling and keeping warm together on a cold night. Two other times, it was just the two of us and Simon, the dog. She talked quietly, held my arm at times and barely ever mentioned the past. It was just now–just this Christmas. Just tonight.

I don’t feel age creeping up on me as much as I do experience. I don’t feel older, but I do feel wiser and I am grateful for this. It is a gift and one that I know also can’t last. Age is what age is–and it will do what it does indelibly and without critique. Christmas hasn’t changed. I have. We have-but Christmas is the same. 

And in the small weeks leading up to it, I take all of it in and I use Charles Dickens as my guide. I start listening to the digital book I have on one of the devices that cramps my nightstand with Tim Curry reading Dickens’ words and like the Bible, they begin to color how I am each day. I say Good Morning and Good Day to strangers, smile more and “seem by one consent to open my shut-up heart freely…”  I’m mad about Dickens, really–about A Christmas Carol. I think it’s a perfect book. Like good food, it’s seasonal and it fits into a specific rhythm of the year. It is filled with all of the things Christmas should be about, love, fear, children, ignorance, greed, faith, food, filth, corruption, life, death and redemption. And about a dozen other things I probably missed, but will pick up for next year because Christmas is now on its own journey outward. It left two days ago–and is going around the world sprinkling ever less of its magic as it careers out into space, only to pick up speed, gather ingredients for next year and come hard-charging again into the little darknesses we’ve created for ourselves. Its light will not be denied–at least not for a few weeks out of the year.

Christmas Eve is all hope and anticipation and as a child, it’s the closeness of the night–the “thin space” that allows for Christ to come, a poor baby born to poor people in need of constant care. We’re in that space with Him then and our hearts glow with it.

​When we’re older, we begin to see that the space was created for us by people who love us and we find we have to now create that space for others, for our children, for our loved ones. The trick is not to give so much of it away that we exhaust ourselves of the capacity to share in the joy. It’s the one time of the year when we become not just practitioners of faith, but active participants in it and if Christmas is successful, it reminds us to take more active steps every day of the rolling year. I like to think that’s what Dickens was getting at in his “little Carol.”

Next year, my wife and I will become empty-nesters as Shannon leaves for college and we hold the candle here–not old, but older. Not burned out, but melted a bit down the length of the candle. But she’ll come home for Christmas and because she’ll come home, that energy will be brighter than it was in previous years. It will carry with it her memories of Gemini Street, of Christmas Eve church service, of the meals of her childhood, her grandparents and visiting friends and family. I only hope we made memories worth her keeping.


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