My Bobbsey Twins Christmas

She Wolf Howling © Linda Ryan

She Wolf Howling © Linda Ryan

I’ve been in the doldrums for most of December. I prefer the nautical term, because it is the metaphor that fits. My journey through this year got stuck at the equator.

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.

doldrumsI 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:

Wolf waited.
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.
Light returned.

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

When Your Butt Can’t Be in the Chair

There is that day when you know the season is changing. It’s something about the light, the feel of the air against your skin, the sounds in the early morning.

This is my first March in my new home in the Northwest—a home sheltered by a rainshadow, but I think I’m right—spring has taken the baton from winter. Either I am hearing birds again in the morning, or there are new birds with new songs. At night, the symphony of the frogs fills the air. Mystery flowers are pushing their way up to the surface. And, the days are longer.

I have been off the grid blog-wise since the end of November. Sometime in November I either tore my meniscus or it tore itself. I’m not sure. I’d like to claim that it was due to an aggressive swoop down a ski slope—but me and skis have never seen fit to be good company.

I believe my meniscus tore because it has been around for 64 plus years and just got tired of being ignored. It worked. I learned I had something called a meniscus.

I am a stranger to pain. I have not had children so can only imagine the pain of childbirth. I’ve never had a severe injury—I sprained my wrist when I was in sixth grade, but I got a Dr. Pepper out of that. The pain eased pretty quickly.

A torn meniscus is really, really, really painful. It interfered with my sleep because I sleep on my side. I had to adjust to sleeping on my back—waiting for the pain to ease.

I relied on marijuana for pain medication. I can attest that it works, and it gives you creative ideas for chip and dip—Moose Track ice cream with vinegar and salt chips, an idea way before its time—and it isn’t habit forming. The marijuana or the ice cream and chips. Fortunately, I live in a state where it is legal.

It’s true that you don’t remember pain. But I do know that during the two months it took to recover, I couldn’t write. For one, I couldn’t sit down for long periods of time—long being more than ten minutes at a time. So much for the butt-in-chair mantra.

For another, pain clouded my brain. I simply could not write. Or to be more precise, I could not think—except for thinking about how debilitating it is to have a knee that doesn’t work right. Who knew how important knees are? Well I do now.

I wonder if this is what a bear feels like when she comes out of the den after a winter’s slumber? Awakening to a world that has changed, lightened up, alive with signs of new growth, and chilled air that touches lightly on your skin.

After a long winter’s slumber, I have a new appreciation for my knees and mobility.

I also have a new appreciation for hibernation. I think sometimes, change is so great that we have to slip into a deep sleep to let it wash over us, trusting that where it takes us is to the place we need to be—a place of changed light, new growth, and chilled air that touches lightly on our skin.

Cast of Love, Loss, and What I Wore. Back row: Nina Mendiburu, Me, Lola Bond; Front row: Sharon DeLaBarre, Susan Dwyer

Cast of Love, Loss, and What I Wore. Back row: Nina Mendiburu, Me, Lola Bond; Front row: Sharon DeLaBarre, Susan Dwyer

I am directing and acting in a production of Love, Loss, and What I Wore (written by Nora and Delia Ephron). What a great experience to say words aloud that have been written by such awesome women—not to mention the awesome women in the cast who are speaking their words.

The White Wall

“I wish I’d paid better attention. I didn’t yet think of time as finite. I didn’t fully appreciate the stories she told me until I became adult, and by then I had to make do with snippets pasted together, a film projected on the back of my mind.”
—Jessica Maria Tuccelli, Glow

I am at that time in life. I want to ask:

“Did he give me a music box covered with pink roses?”

“Did you go to Fisk?”

“Did you give new meaning to Debutante Ball—with the busboy?”

But they are all gone, the people that could answer those question.

Years ago, I don’t remember which television news magazine reported it, I saw a story about a woman, an artist, who had received a devastating diagnosis: she had an aneurysm that could burst at any moment and she would die.

She lived with this knowledge for a year. A moment-by-moment experience of life. After a year, they discovered that she had been misdiagnosed.

This is what I remember about her back-story.

Sometime after that year, a gallery owner came to her studio. He noticed a subtle, but significant difference between her paintings. She told him her story and they realized that the differences he noticed reflected that year of living with the knowledge that life, time for her, was finite. There was a distinct before and after to her work.

He wanted a gallery show that told that story. They decided on a mural that would take up one wall of the gallery. She wanted it to be done with pastels. She wanted it to be up for one month, and one month only. And she wanted the opening to be reserved for people who were living with a terminal diagnosis.

I believe she spent a month on the mural, weeping as she worked, her fingers bleeding from working pastel onto plaster. As I remember the mural, it was a series of framed scenes, scenes as you would see them through a window, as if you were doing something mundane, happened to look up, and see a snippet of life. Simple but glorious.

At the opening, the invited guests passed through slowly, weeping. Weeping with joy and sorrow.

After one month, she stepped back to look at it one more time, then wept again as she took scrub brush in hand and washed away her work of love and passion.

But a ghost of the image remained. The gallery, with her permission, covered it with white paint.

In a way, it was the coat of white paint that touched me the most. Behind it, the ghost of the mural remains.

I have come to think that that is how it is when we die. We disappear behind the coat of white paint, but the ghost of our experience remains—in the memory and hearts of those who experienced us.

I stand with my back to the white wall, its coat of paint between me and the people who are gone. I have memories, some vivid and clear, others misty and muddled. I cannot verify any of them. I cannot point to them as facts. But I trust their presence behind that coat of white paint, and that their presence in my life has shaped it.