It makes sense, my doldrums. This was a year filled with losses that appeared regularly, with little time in between to fully experience them. I tried my best to keep on sailing. But then I sailed right into the doldrums. Or maybe that was where I was supposed to sail into.
It’s not really fair to call this the most wonderful time of the year. Sometimes it is, but it is also the time where absence is a profound presence.
I think that is probably what I mean by the doldrums, absence that is a profound presence. The price of loving—feeling the profound presence of one who is absent. And yet, loving is well worth the price.
At times it seemed that my sails had finally filled with wind, only to have them deflate as I stayed in the doldrums.
I decided not to rush it.
And so, here I am on Christmas Eve thinking about the reason for the season, annoyed by the whole it’s-Merry-Christmas-to-hell-with-whatever-it-means-to-you faux Christian victimization. I try to be kind, but when you’re stuck in the doldrums, you tend to lose your sense of civility.
I’ve vowed to think carefully before I rant on Facebook, because when I rant on Facebook , I forget the nuances of it all and become the crazed loner ranting on Facebook at two in the morning.
I’ve been mostly faithful to my vow.
My worst Christmas ever was in 1981, when I was the only one of my siblings at home with my parents. I had been unemployed for much of the previous year and unceremoniously dumped by boyfriends who didn’t want to commit and then married the next woman they got involved with. I had “Loser” stamped on my forehead.
My heart broke for my father, who sat at the rattan bar they had bought in the Phillipines on our journey (by ship!) back from Saudi Arabia, sad and lonely for his family. I wondered what I could do for him when he turned to me and said, “You’re such a pretty girl. I don’t understand why you aren’t married.”
My mother tried her damndest to get between me and his words. But she could not match the speed of sound.
I fled the house and went to the local Lyons where I thought I would find an anonymous place where I could drown my sorrows with a patty melt.
I sat at the counter. The waitress knew everyone’s name but mine. Everyone knew everyone else, but me. The loser sign stamped on my forehead blinked on and off with neon lights.
I vowed I would never again celebrate a holiday unless it truly meant something to me.
That’s when I remembered the Bobbsey Twins Christmas. They woke in the morning, opened their presents, gathered ’round the breakfast table as Papa Bobbsey read the Christmas story from the Bible, then went to play with their new sleds in the landscape that had turned snowy overnight.
It was at that point that I realized that I had never, not even once, experienced a white Christmas. A green one, when we were anchored in an Indonesian bay the year we spent Christmas on the ship that took us from Saudi Arabia to California, but never a white Christmas.
So why, I asked myself, was a white Christmas so important? And why did I care about Christmas?
I realized that though I had been raised Christian, I just did not believe that Jesus had been sent here to die for my sins. I also realized that I tended to be down at this time of year. And something felt natural about that.
That was when I first understood that there was something natural about feeling sad as light’s waning reached its end.
And then light returned.
That’s the reason for the season. Light. Whichever story floats your boat, it’s a story about light.
I love deeply those who are with me and deeply loved those who have died, be they animal or human. Tom’s cancer diagnosis left me feeling like a candle in the wind; the accumulation of losses led me to the doldrums—a place so calm I had no choice but to sit with the losses and be that candle in the wind.
That’s what it is to be human, after all.
What touches me about the Christmas story is the triumph of love and mercy over rules and law. Joseph should have rejected Mary for being pregnant, but instead, in a time of social turmoil, chose to be a mensch—to take care of Mary and the child she bore.
Tom and I have listened to Pentatonix Christmas CDs this past week. We both cry when Little Drummer Boy comes on. Better than anyone I’ve heard sing it, they evoke the emotion of the miracle of recognizing light emerge from the darkness.
What I liked about the Bobbsey Twins Christmas is that they connected it with a story.
In April of 1991, I lost my dog Coyote. Some say he was part wolf. Whatever, he was a magnificent and beautiful spirit. It broke my heart. And so I wrote the story that has become my reason for the season. I share it with you now:
He waited as he did every year on this night.
It grew darker and darker and colder and colder.
And still he waited, knowing that she would return.
Darkness reached his deepest pitch.
The birds, the trees, the ocean, and the rocks grew still.
Wolf gazed deeply into the eyes of Darkness as
Wind wove her cold fingers through his rich, thick fur.
He closed his eyes,
Held his breath,
and listened as Wind whispered,
then felt her caress as she flew away.
Wolf knew it was time.
He opened his eyes and saw her
— a glowing luminous ember
emerging from the opening
between the earth and the sky.
She did on this day
What she did on this day every year of Wolf’s life.
On the hill overlooking the ocean,
Wolf circled three times, lay down, and took his rest.
Light wove her warm fingers through his rich, thick fur.
Before he left,
Wolf whispered to me what Wind whispered to him.
He wanted me to share it with you.
Here’s what she told him:
“Expect to be loved.”
Wolf Waited copyright©2000 Karen L. Hogan