Somehow It Came

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A first for this family.

Somehow it came.

To Scrooge, to the Grinch, and even to curmudgeonly me: Christmas came, and not a moment too soon. It's been a season, a year, a decade of growing ugliness, of good will becoming as endangered as summer ice in the Arctic.

I could write of the ironic rightness of the way Americans have come to celebrate the birth of a poor child in a small Middle Eastern village, occupied by a global superpower, by spending billions of dollars on gewgaws and tchotchkes, screaming at each other over parking places at shopping malls, fighting tooth, nail, and bullet over perceived bargains and limited-availability toys, and how this so-very-American holiday has hegemonized so much of the rest of the world, drowning out far more appropriate traditions of generosity and piety--but I've done that. In fact, I've been doing that for most of my adult life.

And I don't want to, because in some inexplicable, mysterious way, Christmas has gotten under my skin this year, and become what I always wanted it to be.

As a child, I loved Christmas, yet almost always found it disappointing. Peanuts summed up my feelings perfectly, as Lucy complained of her "post-Christmas letdown." For children, there is an enormous buildup to the day and, much more specifically, to the moment at which the wrapping paper is shredded and the payoff proves to never measure up to the expectations: Santa didn't bring everything on the list, and even if he did, having is never as satisfying as wanting. (An insight I have Mr. Spock to thank for.)

Add to that the stress that so often issues from the adults in the room. We who are parents want so desperately to duplicate for our children the wonder we remember from our own childhood experience of Christmas that we go to extremes, making last minute Christmas Eve visits to Toys R Us (shudder), assembling complicated gadgets well past midnight, struggling out of bed on just a few hours' sleep when the children can't bear to stay in their own beds a minute longer, even though it's still dark outside. Our grownup post-Christmas letdown grows out of the materialistic gift-opening orgy we watch, and it's so rarely seasoned with gratitude (and why should it be? We've carefully nurtured the belief that all these goodies come from a magic elf rather than ourselves.), that the thinly-veiled disappointment in our children's eyes can sour even the merriest parent's Christmas spirit.

Children are sensitive to such things. I remember many a Christmas when the stress my parents were experiencing colored my own feelings toward the day, something that carried over into my efforts to make the day special for my own children.

And then came the tragedies: a sister-in-law driving into a tree a week before Christmas 1993, setting in motion the turbulent year that culminated, two weeks before Christmas 1994, in the end of my first marriage. The most selfish thing we did in the divorce was make the children spend Christmas Eve with one parent, Christmas day with the other. The sins of the parents were visited upon the children year after year, as at some point on Christmas day they had to leave all their gifts behind and travel to the home of the other parent. We told ourselves we were doing it for the children, so that they didn't have to spend the holiday without both parents, but in fact, we forced them to relive the trauma of the divorce, year after year, on a day that was supposed to be for them, not us.

I wasn't just inflicting the trauma: I was feeling it. The years that I had to hand off the children to my ex-wife on Christmas morning, I felt myself torn asunder.

Once the children were moved to Idaho, the Christmas day handoff was rendered moot. Winter break was one of the only times I could see my children during the school year, but now we found ourselves needing to get reacquainted. So much was going on outside my sphere of influence or even awareness that I struggled to understand the people they were becoming.

Those children are grown now, and I don't always see them at Christmas. In years when they're not with me, it's been important for me not to be alone on the holiday; fortunately, I have plenty of family and friends around to help with that. Much better, though, is that this will be the eighth Christmas I will spend with Amy. As our relationship has matured into commitment and marriage, we've found ways to celebrate this holiday together, with or without children, including, when we're able, traveling to someplace warmer and/or dryer than the Willamette Valley tends to be at this time of year.

This year, though, is different from all the Christmases that came before. It's my 56th Christmas. There are two kids in the house: Amy's children, Alex and Sarah. There's a Christmas tree in our house--something we've been doing since we moved in here in 2012--and underneath it, presents. In a few minutes, the house will awaken, and we'll have a breakfast of coffee cake and scrambled eggs, followed by the opening of gifts. The day we will be spent baking treats for the Anderson family celebration on Tuesday. And at 9:00 tonight, I'll go to the airport to pick up my daughter, Sarah, who is pregnant with my first grandchild.

It's been 22 years since the Christmas I spent weeping over a collapsing marriage, high time I finally had a chance at the holiday I always hoped it could be. But there's another factor at work this year: it's just six weeks since I began weeping over the collapse of democracy in this country. It's more important than it's ever been that this year, Christmas be a time of generosity, peace, and love, a witness against the selfishness projecting from Trump Tower.

And here's my Christmas miracle: I feel hope this morning. It's not just the anticipation of finally doing Christmas right. It's how long it took for me to get here. Year after year, decade after decade, Christmas let me down, sometimes in horribly traumatic ways. And yet, I never gave up on it. There were years I hardly noted its passing at all; in fact, for the last two, it really was just another day, in the middle of a trip to another place. Somehow this year, though, everything has come together. There will be warmth, and generosity, and love. We will celebrate, eat, sing, play together. There will be a father-and-child reunion tonight, a larger reunion on Tuesday. And I'm feeling it: this Grinch's heart is growing three sizes today.

Somehow, it came. Despite all the ugliness in the world, it came. After so many years of darkness, light is shining in my skeptical heart.

This is a dark, ugly time for our country and the world. A demagogue carelessly rants about a new arms race, threatens to deport millions of people, encourages expressions of racism and sexism by his followers, and in a few weeks, will have more power than any human (even a very good one) should. There will be many terrible things that happen because of this, and it was quite appropriate to fear for the continued existence of this nation as a democracy. We may be in the dark for a very long time.

Here's where the preacher in me kicks in: if Christmas can come for me after so many years without really feeling it, then it can come for this nation, too. I don't know how long it will take, but I do believe the light will shine in the darkness descending on this country. Peace will return, broken relationships will heal, a spirit of generosity will again open our doors, and we will declare ourselves finished with the trauma that has too long spoiled this day for so many.

That starts with us making each of our homes a haven for good will. For me and mine, it means making this Christmas day a miraculous, generous time that empowers us to make every day miraculous and generous. That can be true for you, as well.

May Christmas come into your heart and world today.


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