Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ghosts of Past, Present, and Future

It's been nearly a decade since my entire immediate family came together for Christmas.

This year was no exception.

For the previous three years, I've chosen to spend Christmas Day with the Ducks 'n Puppies, eating Middle Eastern food or green chile frittata and stout cake, drinking martinis for brunch, and watching the Star Wars Holiday Special from 1978, Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas, and Frisky Dingo. Before that, Christmas was celebrated either with just my mom or mostly by myself.

* Note: Lex doesn't celebrate holidays or birthdays unless coerced.

However, this year, a quiet day to myself and martinis before noon weren't options...unless I was willing to spend the day mired in self-inflicted guilt.

For, you see, my brother, his wife, and son moved from Maryland to a mere hour away from me this past September.

Please know, I was 8 when my brother left home, 9 when he left the region and moved across the country. He hasn't lived near me in over 30 years. Beyond that, I haven't had a sibling - I've got 3 - within 8 hours of me by car since...uh...I don't know when (2000 maybe?). Having him and them thisclose is still very new to me. I'm grateful they're here but I am also at a loss as to how to incorporate newly relocated family into the independent, blood relative-absent life I've built for myself since all the rest of them made it clear they weren't coming back and subsequently found new chosen families with whom they surrounded themselves.

I'm working on figuring all that out.


So, Christmas Day, I forwent the traditional Christmas Morning Martini Fest, arose discombobulated at the foresaken hour of 7 a.m, and thanked Santa for the Christmas miracle that is Acr0nym and his willingness to drive me to my brother's house at such an un-gawdly hour.


So I would be there in time for church.

You heard me.

I went to *gasp* church.

No one forced me to go, you know. I was, in fact, given the oh-so-tempting option to stay an unfamiliar, empty house alone. But I figured meh, what the heck. I was there to spend face time with my family and I didn't THINK I'd burst into flames or anything and, at worst, I had a new-to-me Kindle - a gift from the BFF - loaded with books (most notably the autobiography of porn star, Ron Jeremy...something to tickle me with apparently) that I could engross myself in during the service.

* Note: No, the irony of reading about a porn star's life while in church was not lost on me.

This was unlike any church I'd ever experienced though.

It was, as I would discover, a Unitarian church. And I was surprised by many elements of the service. First, there didn't seem to be any restraint when it came to laughter from the congregation. In fact, the music directors encouraged laughter through silliness - like when one of them donned an elf hat and did a rendition of Blue Christmas as Elvish Presley. Second, unlike any church sanctuary I'd ever seen, this one was set up to resemble a living room of sorts. The minister sat, one leg tucked underneath her, on a stool surrounded by plants, a coffee table, a centerpiece with candles. Many in the congregation as well as the minister sipped from steaming mugs of hot tea and coffee. It was as though we were all there having a casual coffee klatch...except really only the minister - apparently sometimes called a "tipster" - was speaking.

As the music ended and the sermon (although...I don't think that's what the UU's - Unitarian Universalists - call it) began, I prepared to reach for my Kindle cuz, you know, I'm religion resistant and my escape from boredom was Right There just waiting for me in my purse.

And then...

She started by stating she had decided for herself that this Christmas would be an "intentional Christmas".

Her use of the word "intentional" stopped me in my tracks. I listened.

Moments later she began talking about authenticity and how our energy betrays us when we attempt to mask our true feelings and people simply sense, know when we are disingenuous or covering up some portion of ourselves.

She then talked about connectedness and how we are our best selves when we allow ourselves to connect with one another.





Haven't I been thinking about, writing about, talking about these things in relation to writing for the last month?

Was this message specifically for me?

Naw. Not likely. It's a good message for everyone.

However, it gave me much fodder for thought over the last few days. And, if it hadn't been for all that extraneous talk about god and Jesus (my brother assures me this was unusual and only because we were there on the anniversary of Jesus's alleged birth), I might be convinced to return. I'm not exactly a hedonist, you know, but, rather, a voluptuary (as described by Julie Jordan Scott, y'all) and an agnostic, so religious references to any deity are a mite uncomfortable for me.

Her message though, for me, was pretty powerful. These were all ideas that had been at the fore of my conscious thoughts and conversations for several weeks. So, I listened intently as I stared, in turns, at her and then out at the sun shining on the snow through the south-facing windows.

Later, as we - my father and mother, my brother, his wife, his son, and me - sat around the supper table, offering aloud our individual thoughts on thanks as we held reluctant hands, my thoughts drifted back to connectedness as the minister described it.

Whether I like it or not, I'm connected here. Whether I hold any animosity to some (particularly one) at this table or not, I am connected. Whether I want to admit it or not, occasionally blood must be thicker than water. Whether I want to acknowledge it or not, sometimes the blood connection to me is desperately needed, my face time sought out of need rather than desire. We're on the same team...aren't we? Shouldn't our voices be raised in collective cheer or, on the other hand, a groan of regret and/or frustration?

After supper, my brother and his little family each opened the presents my mother had brought with her for them - additional gifts from herself and her dear friend, Mary Guthrie. Mary Guthrie (I cannot call her simply "Mary"), in her lovely infinite wisdom, purchased a book for Bodhi - Shel Silverstein's A Giraffe and a Half.

He'd been rather wild most of the day up until the moment he opened the book. But, once the wrapping was ripped off in excited anticipation of what lay beneath, he sat, quietly reading, and no one could distract him...not even a call for dessert.

At that moment I was transported back to Christmas, 1983. I was 11 - nearly twice his age - when I unwrapped both A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends and sat, quietly reading, just as Bodhi was doing, enveloped in the fabulously crafted words of Mr. Silverstein.

My mom, as we bore witness to Bodhi's enthrall, asked me, "Do you still have them?"

"Of course," I replied.

Little known fact, I am a collector of first edition, hard bound children's literature. I have a very small, but lovingly, sweet and meaningful collection. These two books then have traveled with me from Casper to Cheyenne to Denver to Las Vegas and back over the course of almost 30 years.

Copyright 1981 and 1974 respectively - 1st edition, hard bound...and inscribed

Mommy's inscription and the last bit of my hot pink, newly-learned, cursive scrawl

It occurred to me then, I could offer my blood a vein of community and connection. At least, theoretically...if my blood weren't so quick to judge the water - that sweet, sweet water - from which I drink.

It occurred to me tonight, after pulling those dusty tomes from my shelves, that I had been handed an opportunity to say goodbye to my past, hello to Bodhi's present, and maybe, just maybe get released from ancient chains to offer a fond welcoming to my future.

I could accomplish all those things by gifting Bodhi those books...without reserve and without any stipulations.

No rules.

I'm waffling.

What do I do?


If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer...
If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!
                                      - Shel Silverstein


Franklin Taggart said...

One small correction. It's a Unity Church. Very different from Unitarian, UU and Universalist. Other than that, right on!

PS Thank you truly for being here. We love you.

Gaelyn said...

What a wonderful change of plans for you Christmas, although I rather liked the naked at home idea.

And even better a way to start anew with the gift giving of these very special to you gifts.

The Shiftless Wanderer said...

I love everything about this posting. Everything. Parts of it made me laugh out loud and parts of it made my throat tighten. Lovely. Thank you.

Masked Mom said...

I love Silverstein! And I think it's amazing that you're thinking of sharing such a special part of your childhood with a special child in your life now.

And a thing about family that I've really been thinking about lately is that in some warped way, I am almost MORE connected to those I hold animosity toward than the rest. I'm not the biggest fan of the New Year's Resolution concept (because if a change is worth making, we don't need to wait for an arbitrary day to begin), but if I were to make one for this year, it would be to really do whatever it takes to let some of the old crap go--and what I can't let go, I need to find a better way to live with than I have up to this point.

Gavin said...

No. Nothing against Bodhi or your family, but these are extremely special to *you*. He was fascinated by Silverstein's prose (as many have been), but will hold no reverence at his young age for "I got these from my momma, and now I give them to you" - he's too young. Get him copies and sign them "From Aunt Jane - 2012" and make them as special as he wants them to be without prior obligations and baggage. If he wants them at 25, give the Blind Betsy versions to him if you wish - but not now.

cdnkaro said...

I agree with what Masked Mom said- I find the same thing with my family. Bodhi obviously holds a very special place in your heart, as do these books- I think it's a very fitting and beautiful idea. It's nice to know that we can still surprise ourselves, isn't it?

Lucy said...

What a touching post! I agree with Gavin to a certain degree, if you have held onto those books this long they mean something to you and if you pass them along you must pass them along knowing they may not hold the same power and they may get a bit ruffled? Are you truly okay with that? If so, if you can hand them over with no strings and no regrets then do it!!

Just Jane said...

MM and cdnkaro: Yes! I believe that is a significant resolution to make. I especially like the idea that whatever can't be let go (right now) can at least be woven in such a way as to alleviate angst.

TangledLou said...

Masked Mom said what I was going to say again. I'm seriously considering a tin foil hat to block out her mind reading ray.
You touched on a lot of family issues that I have similar thoughts about. Now I'm going to have to go and think them some more.
That is a very sweet gesture with the books. Do what your gut is telling you. Be quiet and listen.