The Thing About Being Alone (on Christmas)

blurry snow flakes

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.    John 1:4-5

It’s the quietest day of the year, the quietest time: Christmas morning, tucked in between gratefulness and gifts, frenzied having and second-thought giving away, nestled right between the old and new, regrets and resolutions. Yesterday held anticipation and tomorrow holds it’s own hollowness, that let-down tinge somewhere inside we all know yet give little credence to.

But, for now, it’s quiet, as if the whole world sleeps along the very same hour, the very same time-zone and trajectory and even the earth’s rotation has slowed a bit, maybe even paused for this one moment, soaking in the rarity of stillness and quiet. Of a simple peacefulness.

I stand on the deck looking out past the yard, the year, letting my eyes acclimate to the dark not quite dark anymore, to that blue-grey light licking the tips of trees and chimneys and the smoke that billows up and out. I notice the shadow-backed glimmer along the peaks and valleys of weeks-old snow strewn about the yard like the tousled quilt on my bed. There’s a mouse or a squirrel or maybe a rabbit just over there in the shadow of a leaf pile gathered about a tree trunk. I can’t see into that murky place underneath the pine’s bows, but I know it’s there, whatever it is. I can hear it rustling about for seeds or stray shoots buried, maybe nestling deeper in for a little warmth.

And that’s when the first flakes fall. I can’t see those either in this hazy hint of dawn but I can feel them lighting on my cheeks, the backs of my hands. For just a moment, one falling, landing, melting moment. Fleeting. Just a hint. One so slight you pause and become less, as less as you can make yourself. Then wait. Stretching those little-used senses to know, really know: Did I feel that? Is it true? And there, on the tip of the nose, the tiniest sensation of something fresh and cool. Real. And you smile, stick out your tongue; catch a few there like a child all over again.

I have nowhere to be this Christmas day. I opted to forgo the forced festivities with my tiny broken family where we pretend to be what plays out before us on TV and social media and the neighbor’s lawn. Please, don’t misunderstand. We love each other, we’re tight in our strange non-traditional ways. But we learned long ago that covering our history with a false facade only deepens our wounds, wounds this season tends to open wide. So, this year we do it our way, the more real and comfortable way. For us, anyway. And we call instead, send silly texts and count our blessings one by two by three.

Despite my choice, there is a sadness still, a sense of lonely and longing standing here now as dawn creeps up and squirrels and rabbits nose about crispy leaves searching out stray morsels. I see myself that way sometimes even now, that lone scrappy girl searching out normal and a full belly. A full heart. I think about the kids soon to rise from sweet dreamy slumber and the piles of prettily wrapped presents below bauble-laced trees, the smell of cinnamon rolls rising to fill the room, mom and dad or just one on the couch with coffee and camera as carols play behind to set the mood.

And my heart hurts.

For what I’m missing. For what they are.

Oh, Dear Ones. If only you knew.

Flakes fall soft as feathers. I feel them along the ridge of my ears and the muffled hum of a semi sweeps across the peaks and valleys of the landscape and the lonely seems heavier now, deeper, but not mine alone.

I think of the last few days, the rushing about and overly joyous gestures rarely seen come January, May, August. I think about the cost and the frenzy and the weight of “will they like it” and “will it fit”. I think of the long lines and mom’s long hours cooking, baking, decorating those cookies like Martha Stewart’s, disappointed they aren’t a bit like hers; disappointed about the crust too brown and ham too dry while those all around implore, “Oh, no. It’s wonderful”. And when that moment’s done they’ll pack it all up, the load going out bigger than the load coming in. They’ll pile it all in a car with reindeer antlers stuck in both front doors and drive far too fast and far too long to the next house, the next gathering, the next gift exchange, so busy in the doing they forget the whole point of it all.

Oh, dear ones, listen. Let me tell you.

The light grows lighter and I can make out the edges of familiar things: the clothesline, the apple tree, the neighbor’s truck. I think back to all the kids soon to “ooh” and “ahh” as one by one ribbons break and paper tears, the hope in their heart all centered on just one more, just a little bigger, just a little better. Just a little cooler. And at the end of the day, all that high-priced paper and all those shimmering bows will be wadded up and stuffed in a bag atop egg shells and coffee grounds. Refuse.

I want to shake them. Implore them. Explain.

Oh, dear ones, please. Don’t you see?

I shiver here in slippers and snow but the still peacefulness of a day being born is hard to walk away from. And it’s a momentary thing, a slow yet sure passing of a moment spent and over with. It doesn’t last. So, for now, I shiver just a little longer and listen to the silence, hold out my hand as firmament for each unique, never-to-be-seen-again flake. A sad and lonely sort of beautiful.

One glorious, merciful moment.

Oh, Dear Ones. Slow down. You’re missing it.

My mind flows to the reason for this being here now, in this moment, alone and contemplative. Cold. What I would tell them. I think of the reason for it all, its abounding fulfilment. Its permanence. As I do, I hear the rustle of hooves in a stable, the “bah” of a young lamb. He shuffles across earthly fragrant straw towards his mother’s teet, across the same straw lining a trough where a newborn lies wrapped in thin linen, skin like a dawn-drenched winter landscape. Wispy snow falls slower still and gathers in my hair, across my shoulders. I can hear the child’s rhythmic breaths and see the slightest steam escape his lips, warm air rising out into this cold, cold world. I see shepherds and magi and one bright star gather around the center of it all, like the sun, warming this day and this earth with an infinite, everlasting Hope. Free, not fleeting. A permanent anticipation. True. Steady. Firm.

Like a hand held out to catch each of these lonely, beautiful souls.

Said the night wind to the little lamb
Do you see what I see
Way up in the sky little lamb
Do you see what I see
A star, a star
Dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite
With a tail as big as a kite
Said the little lamb to the Shepard boy
Do you hear what I hear
Ringing through the sky Shepard boy
Do you hear what I hear
A song, a song
High above the trees
With a voice as big as the sea
With a voice as big as the sea
Said the Shepard boy to the mighty king
Do you know what I know
In your palace wall mighty king
Do you know what I know
A child, a child
Shivers in the cold
Let us bring him silver and gold
Let us bring him silver and gold
Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say
Pray for peace people everywhere
Listen to what I say
The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light
Songwriters: Noel Regney / Gloria Shayne
Do You Hear What I Hear lyrics © Regent Music Corporation