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This week, First Person celebrates the fun and frustrating holiday season.
The presents were wrapped, the children were finally in bed and the stuffing was sitting in a bowl in the fridge, ready to be loaded into the turkey the next day. Outside, in the park across the street, the sheet of snow that blanketed the ground was sparkling in the glow of the streetlights. A fire burned steadily in the hearth. Our field-stone fireplace was 6-metres wide, and one of the many reasons we had fallen for this gorgeous house in Beaconsfield, Que. We had been so full of joy when we had moved in. We had been full of hope.
After more than 13 years together, my husband and I had also been full of love for each other and the wonderful family we had cobbled together out of the ashes of our previous marriages. Two new babies had been born, and they were young, and sweet and hoping Santa would drop by in the night. They had fallen asleep straining to hear the sounds of reindeer hooves on the roof. Wait – weren’t those sleigh bells they had just heard?! We had answered that question countless times before our kids had finally drifted off into Dreamland.
A decade ago, coloured lights danced around the living room that Christmas Eve and the tree stood in a corner, resplendent in its thick coat of coloured balls and lights, shimmery strands of tinsel and home-made decorations, lovingly crafted.
But I wasn’t feeling at all merry. In mid-December, my husband and I had been informed that he had fourth-stage stomach cancer and he was going to die. We’re all going to die Some Day, of course, and a quiet little part of us knows that we’ll deal with that when the time comes. Steve’s time was coming. Less than a year left, the doctors said.
Does anybody ever get “enough” time?
We pretty much dispensed with Christmas music that year. We were pretending things were normal as best we could for the sake of the children, but happy, jingly music was completely out of the realm of possibility. Silent Night struck a chord with me, however, and I listened to it repeatedly. All was heartbreakingly calm. In the light reflecting off the snow at night, all was bright. And there was that bit about sleeping in heavenly peace that swept me into its grasp and held me captive. I couldn’t stop crying.
In the years since that painful season, I have come to look upon Christmas as an ending and a beginning. For me, it marks the wistful end of the year that was, with all its challenges and triumphs, perceptive failures and surprising wins. The Year That Was is always full of plans God laughed at, and wishes He granted. Christmas gives us the opportunity to step off the treadmill of endless commitments that fill our daily lives and reflect on what’s actually happening for us. Are we thriving? Fulfilled? At peace? What did we learn from the Year That Was? What will we do differently now?
But Christmas is also a portal to the Year That Is Yet To Be. The year ahead is full of possibility and anticipation, surprising experiences and delightful successes. Some of them are big, like a two-week trip to a foreign country or a book we will read that will change our lives. Some of them are small, like a sweet little flower found growing valiantly out of a crack in the sidewalk or the hilarity of a baby’s toothless laughter. There are also disappointments waiting for us in the year ahead – what life is complete without a few of those? Either way, it’s all there, around just one more corner – unknown, uncounted, unexplainable. What’s next in this bumpy road to our future? The suspense drives me crazy!
In many ways, Christmas and the days that surround it sit astride the demarcation line between past and future. That line is comprised of a series of moments of transition that leverage me out of the old and into the new. Transition can be challenging for many of us and despite the fact that I’ve transitioned countless times over the past decade into a new version of who I am, and who I am here to be, I find transition difficult. It’s about letting go of the familiar and diving headlong into the unfamiliar. Just as I had to face letting go of the life I had led with my beloved husband and stepping into a new world as a widowed mom, I find that every year at this time I have to step out of the version of me that suited the year that is ending and ease into the version of me who will rise to the goals I am holding for myself for the year ahead.
Perhaps that is what people are calling “transformation” these days.
In the end, we got through that painful Christmas all those years ago. We took down the lights and boxed up the decorations. We washed the Christmas tablecloth that had graced our table over many joyful Christmases past, and put it back in its drawer. We put the Christmas dishes back on the shelf in the cupboard where they belonged. And we told our children that their father was going to die. He slipped away from us three months later.
Last year at this time, I sat in a wrought-iron chair placed comfortably on the sunny terrace of a 400-year-old farmhouse in southern France and drank in the stillness and beauty of the countryside around me. I could hear cows lowing at a nearby farm and a dog barked off in the distance somewhere. The three children I brought into this world, and a dear friend of my eldest daughter, chattered and laughed around the table beside me as we demolished a lunch feast of bread, cheese, paté and wine. There had been mimosas and croissants and chocolatines for Christmas breakfast, and there would be duck and salad for dinner. We went for a long walk that day, and the hills rang with our laughter.
I was filled with an overwhelming sense of joy and I had a glowing heart that was full of hope. Another ending. Another beginning. And a year that has surprised me at every turn. May we all transition into the best of what lies ahead. May we all find happiness this holiday season. May there be peace on Earth. And comfort. And joy.
Susan Crossman lives in Oakville, Ont.