Five AM. Awakened with a thought I can’t put down until I put it down. The house is dark, quiet. Phones are dark, quiet. Light rain falling outside. Christmas lights still burning on the house across the street paint colored streaks across wet pavement. Christmas lights…bright reminders that another year is shuffling offstage with yet another in the wings. The tree downstairs is dark, but we’ll light it up and gather around in just a few more days. I suppose the word breathless best describes the last few weeks’ run up to these few days before Christmas, and I’m left with unlikely Christmas images in the darkness.
Five nights ago, waiting at a stoplight, I have a front row seat at the crosswalk. Through the passenger window, I catch what must be father and daughter beginning their walk across the intersection. Moving very slowly. I wonder if they’ll get across in time. Both carry cardboard coffee cups in their right hands, but while his free arm swings with each step, I notice hers held stiffly bent against her side. She appears eleven or twelve years old as I collect details: left hand curled cruelly back at the wrist, left foot turned sharply inward and the limping shuffle it creates, thick glasses and puffy features…it dawns why they move so slowly across my glass screen. Father matches her pace with practiced grace. Unhurried, vaguely protective, but not hovering either. They went to Starbucks. He bought her coffee or maybe hot chocolate amid all those lights and decorations. I wondered how it all appeared to her through those thick glasses. I wondered how it all appeared to him…to be forced to walk slowly, to match that slow shuffling pace for eleven or twelve years–for the rest of her life or the rest of his. Perhaps to learn to see life as his daughter would always see it. A tragedy? A very great blessing? A blessing none of us would ever choose, but when chosen for us, immense, if accepted.
Christmas has a way of bringing vague, submerged things to the surface the way hook and line bring up fish. We find ourselves suddenly grasping squirming emotions that should have nothing to do with Christmas, with what we think Christmas is supposed to mean, what we remember it used to mean. You see, we imprint the meaning of Christmas through a child’s eyes, then mourn its loss each year through adult eyes. Christmas hasn’t changed; the possibility of Christmas returns every December. We have changed. We’ve lost the pace of childhood. I’m thinking maybe Christmas-as-remembered happens exactly when we stop trying to make it happen. When we stop running faster and faster trying to catch the stored experience of childhood, new experience and meaning finally have a chance to catch up and catch us.
It’s light now. Gray and wet outside. Christmas lights still burn across the street, but muted, casting no reflections. My house will wake soon, the phone will ring. This quiet moment will pass–is passing–like the eye of a storm. I can’t choose the pace of life around me any more than I can alter the course of a storm. But maybe I can choose my own pace. Maybe I can allow myself to shuffle slowly through the crosswalk with a warm cardboard cup in my hand and the sense of a patient father at my side.