Seven days until Christmas Eve. Nineteen years since my mom’s last Christmas with us. For the duration of the winter from 1999 to 2000, Mom wrote and wrote and wrote. Luckily for all of us, she wrote on her little Toshiba laptop that she was so proud to carry around with her, and many of the things she wrote are still with us. This morning I was desperate to get my hands on them but could not for the life of me find where I’d saved them on my own computer. I’ve been through many computers since 1999, and not a few e-mail accounts, to boot. Plus an external hard drive or two. It’s sort of like trying to remember which box I packed the coffee filters in during our move this past summer: I knew I’d intentionally put them somewhere easy to access, sure to be found without much effort, and yet my searches in the logical places stubbornly yield nothing.
Luckily, I remembered one thing: at some point in the not-too-distant-past, at my brother’s request, I had e-mailed him every single one of these Word documents our mom had written and saved. After a few security questions and password resets, I found what I was looking for in an e-mail account I haven’t used in 8 years: a sent message from August 2009, three computers ago, bearing 18 attachments. Sometimes I have a hard time remembering where I put my keys 12 hours ago, but this act of e-mailing all Mom’s essays to my brother in 2009, this I remembered.
Once I hit the (literal) motherlode, I scanned the titles that had sprung from the zip file and found just what I wanted. For Christmas of 1999, which she knew might well be her last one on earth, Mom spruced up a handful of her favorite pieces, printed them out, and bound them to send to friends as Christmas gifts. It’s almost like she had a blog. I’m turning it over to her, now.
Does the Christmas season really begin the day after Thanksgiving, as the retailers would have us believe? One holiday down, bring on the next? Does it begin, as our minister suggested, at the moment when we take out the stack of catalogs that have been piling up, along with the list of names and gifts we have to buy, heave a huge sigh, and have at it? Both of these are pretty unromantic ideas about one of the most blessed events on the Christian calendar. But is romanticism what this holiday is about? Well, no, but I’m certainly a sucker for the Dickens’ Christmas Carol version of holiday spirit. The conversion of a spiteful, stingy old man (duck, if you follow Disney’s version of the story) into a generous, loving soul who gives to the poor and saves his destitute employee’s son from death [Editor’s note: yep, we were a Mickey Mouse’s Christmas Carol family, and none of us could imagine Scrooge as anything other than a duck]. Now this is a cause for celebration; a reason to kick off any holiday season or event. For me, though, the season always officially begins with the ritual of playing my recording of “Amahl and the Night Visitors”. I never tire of listening to this piece or escape being moved by the beauty of the song and story [Editor’s note: me neither, Mom!]. I’m sure it touches me deeply because the music immediately connects me with my family history and with childhood memories that I cherish. I play Amahl for Sarah and Henry with the same devotion Mom and Dad had to it, hoping the music will become etched in their brains as it has been in mine. I think it’s working – Henry was in full voice the other night singing along as he was doing his homework.
And even for all the commercialism that can get oppressive at this time of year, I must admit I do look forward to both gift giving and receiving, along with the other holiday rituals we have adopted over the years. Like so many significant passages in my life, my feelings on this subject have changed over time; softened is a way I like to think of it. I used to think of all the gift giving and commercialism as just decadence with no place in a so-called sacred holiday - but it’s not, or it doesn’t have to be. It can also be about sharing what we have with others and allowing ourselves to find joy in our own personal expressions of the abundance and love we feel. Hopefully we can find expressions for these feelings throughout the year, but especially at Christmas. Tim and I have found our sentiments shaped into something more as Sarah and Henry have grown and the opportunity for sharing more than just presents has become part of the holiday. Some of our rituals are adapted from our own childhoods, some we have discovered ourselves - like preparing a festive Christmas Eve meal from some unusual cultural tradition. Then there is Nana’s famous coffee cake for Christmas morning; lounging in pajamas as long as possible. And, of course we subscribe to the sacred tradition of leaving milk and cookies for Santa (even though he has requested pizza and beer on occasion. We feel obligated to remind him about drinking and driving), and preparing letters from him with any required explanations about our gifts or just to catch up on the past year. I also love having the occasion to share with my children the significant lessons of the Christmas story, which, though centuries old, still has the power to inspire intense feelings of connection to our spiritual source. All in all, a holiday worth giving thanks for.
The stories I am sending you are another attempt for me to connect with my source, my spiritual wellspring. There is no particular way or order in which to read them. They are, I hope, the beginning of the fulfillment a long simmering wish to write some things down that move me or even just make me laugh. I hope they will do the same for you and also give you a glimpse into me in my 50th year – hearty, feisty and living life fully.
All my love, Ann
(Copyright 1999, Ann R. Luehrman)
May we all find ways to celebrate the things they care about this holiday season, whether they be coffee cake or music or Disney renditions of literary classics. Intense feelings of connection to our spiritual source: sounds like something to strive for.