^ me, six years ago (2010), 1 of 4 Red Wall self-portraits
A couple weeks ago, I was invited to a get-to-know-you Advent dinner hosted by a perky couple from the church I'd started to attend, post-Trump.
I emailed accepting and asking what I could bring.
"Don't bring anything," they replied, "except a memory or a tradition to share, about why Christmas is special!"
[Ohgod, not an exclamation point...]
My instinct was to say, "My mother killed herself at Christmastime, you mean special like that?"
And then I felt like a bad, broken, neurotic person. Why couldn't I just lighten up? Share happy Christmas memories.
I do have them.
Or I could talk about the kindness of a friend who invited me over that Christmas my mother died. I admired this woman, but we weren't close. She was a solitary person with jagged edges, and I often felt shy and even wary around her.
I'd told her and other friends who'd invited me that I was wiped out, still recovering from being violently ill after my mother's cremation, and was planning on staying in bed. She'd said she was going to be hanging around all Christmas, so if I felt like it, I could just drop in. Or not.
As the sun started to set on Christmas afternoon, all of a sudden I felt OK, just really weak, and bored, so I got dressed and walked a mile to her place––an apartment in a crumbling brownstone whose hallways smelled peppery from insecticide.
We sat on folding chairs in her bare apartment lit by strings of Christmas lights and ate roast chicken, wild rice, and corn.
The steam radiators were pumping out heat, which she couldn't control, so she cracked the windows, and we drank tea and chatted about nothing in particular. She mentioned she liked someone at her new job, and they'd invited her to come to their cabin for the holiday.
"Why didn't you go?" I asked.
"I wanted to stay around for a friend," she said, "on the off-chance she needed someplace to go."
So, there was that.
But the church couple's request still felt to me like the demand of a kidnapper for emotional payment. And I hate using my mother's memory as some sort of spiritual bon-bon.
I couldn't get right with it, so finally I wrote back and told them that something had come up and I couldn't make their dinner.
This past week I've been in a wonderful mood, even though I've had a cold, making me fall further behind on my ms, and my sister and I aren't talking (because her wife is a bully), and, and, and...
Nevertheless. I've felt solid.
Today I was marveling that I still feel really good even though I keep weeping every time I think about Aleppo [like there, just then].
There's a radio ad I keep hearing on the station that plays all-Christmas music that says, "The holidays are about the best of humanity." I think that's what the Advent hosts think too.
And talking to bink on the phone today, telling her about all this, it finally came clear and I realized, for heaven's sake! No, it's not, Christmas is not about the best in humanity.
Baby Jesus didn't come because we were or are doing oh so well, or so we could have special *exclamation point* times at the holidays.
Baby Jesus came because of Aleppo, which is humanity's child, and because my mother got sucked into a crazy dark hole.
And because that friend who gave me her Christmas fell out with me not long after, when she felt betrayed by something I'd casually, ignorantly let slip.
Looking back, I'm glad I turned down that Advent dinner invitation.
What makes Christmas special to me is something buried dark and fierce, and people there who glint, matte like beaten gold.