This funny Santa is part of the current tableau on top of my desk, a changing collection of memories and new things I want to look at and live with; it is, for me, a place of stillness and meditation. This drawing shows just one side -- a pot of pencils, pens and brushes and a pheasant feather my mother sent me years ago; a carved sandlewood box holding incense; a little brass dish for the incense burner and some dried seed pods, stones, and pine cones; a wooden box and chain carved for me by G. in the 1970s from a single piece of wood; this year's Christmas card from our friends in Iceland; a blue fan from Y. in Beijing; a Persian miniature on ivory that was my father-in-law's.
The Santa only comes out at Christmastime, and he is almost an antique. He's actually a candy dish that comes apart at the belt, and made of heavy flocked paper with an artificial "tree" and a fluffy white beard; his head is attached by a spiral spring so it bobs around when he's jostled. He's silly and I've always liked him, ever since he arrived in my grandmother's house one Christmas when I was a little girl. She took him out every year until she died, along with a trunkful of other decorations, and somehow I acquired him afterwards. After almost two decades at our house, Christmas wouldn't be the same without him.
After rehearsing and singing at yesterday's two services, and getting to bed at about 2:00 am, this has been a slow, quiet day, and that's been just fine. A few friends are coming over for dinner, so I'm heading to the kitchen soon to start a dish of scalloped potatoes, but I didn't want the day to go by without wishing every one of you a very happy day if you're celebrating it, and telling you that Christmas wouldn't be the same without you, either.
My world has enlarged so much since those simple days of childhood in a small rural town, when the arrival of a mail order package was the most exciting event of a whole month. Looking out this morning at kids heading to the park with sleds or ice skates, or even littler ones being pulled along by their parents, I couldn't help but remember how carefree and uncomplicated life seemed then, and as sometimes happens, I had a choked moment of acknowledging, "I will never, ever feel like that again." In fact, I realize how fortunate any child is who has a majority of moments that actually are carefree, happy, and healthy. But for those of us who have stepped (or been pushed) out of the garden; out of the fantasy that someday everything will seem simple and happy again, this season can of course be an emotional and psychological minefield. I do enjoy seeing the old ornaments and keeping a few traditions, but I find nostalgia doesn't really help my state of mind as I'm forced to adapt to the fragmentation of families and societies, the loss of people dear to me, and the gradual effects of getting older. It's better to be here now, in the present moment, grateful for the technology that allows me to be in touch with people today in places as distant as Palmyra and Beijing, and to feel connected to all of you.
If Christmas means anything anymore, surely it's that: remembering and acknowledging that we're all part of the same family, and that it's still better to give than to receive. I'm willing to trade the naivete of childhood for the ability to see those truths and act on them, with all the pains and joys that come with living with open eyes and an open heart.