Tuesday, November 22, 2022

"The Other Ones at Christmas"

 
                                      The Other Ones at Christmas
 
I absolutely love this time of year. Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. Second only to Independence Day. And my daughter’s birthday.
I love everything about it. I love the songs, the TV specials, the way we all seem to be nicer and friendlier and more hopeful.
Sometimes I go outside on those long cold December nights and remember when I was a little boy, staring up into the sky at night to see if I could see the Bethlehem Star. Or Rudolph’s nose blinking.
Everywhere you look, there is joy, and happiness and smiles. Even under the stress of the season…buying the right gifts, planning the menu, where is grandpa going to sleep, there is an undercurrent of the awareness of what this season really means.
But there are others at Christmas…and I find myself perched precariously between both worlds.
There are others at Christmas for whom this season tears at the soul. Because on the one hand we want to celebrate with all the joy and gusto that everyone else does. We feel it in our hearts. We see it in the store windows, and we hear it in the jingle of the Salvation Army bell ringers at the kettles in the Mall. We are as excited as everyone else for this wonderful season.
But for us…the “other ones at Christmas,” there is another feeling. Another part of the picture that not everyone sees.
There are some of us who have lost someone dear at Christmas and the season will always be bittersweet for us, no matter how much time goes by. Or maybe we lost someone, and their birthday is near Christmas, or they really really loved Christmas and the season -while joyous and festive—reminds us that they aren’t here. There are friends who experienced loss around this time and every blinking light, every shining bauble, every Christmas carol, calls out the name and reflects the face of the person they miss so much.
A sister (in my case) a wife, a husband, a mom, or dad. They are supposed to be here, and they aren’t, and we feel it. We feel it in the quiet moments between shopping madness and food prep and travel and putting up lights and trees and Church Christmas plays. In the early hours…or late at night when we turn off the Christmas lights and head to bed, we feel their absence.
Some of us (and I find myself at the top of this list) love this season deeply, and yet, we painted a picture of how it was going to be when we were “grown-ups” at Christmas, and it hasn’t turned out the way we saw it. When I was a kid I vowed to have the best Christmases ever, with my wife and kids. I would be Clark W. Griswald, and my family would fashion memories that would last a lifetime.
But it’s my 23rd Christmas post-divorce now. I have only one child, and I haven’t spent Christmas with “someone” in all that time. I am a romantic, especially at Christmas. I want to give the perfect gift, that she opens and says, “You really know me…this is perfect.” I want to get that same perfect gift. The one that says “I have spent these years with you, and I really know you and I really love you and I just knew you’d love this…” And she’d be right because she really does know me.
I’m not known.  Not in that sense. And as Holy and sacred as Christmas is, it is also very romantic. And I feel the absence very deeply. Maybe making it worse is the fact that I know who I would spend my Christmas with, if I could make it happen. But I can’t, try as I may. Though the eternal optimist in me prays every day that it will happen. It’s Christmas when I feel it a little more. Long for it more deeply. I want family at Christmas. Not extended family…I have that and love them dearly. But I want to feel like the other half of my heart has come home for Christmas and is still hasn’t.
I miss my daughter being little at Christmas. I miss waiting until she had gone to bed and was almost- but not quite—asleep and climbing up on the roof and stomping around and calling out “Ho Ho Ho!” and jingling the sleighbells I kept hidden in my closet, so she’d never find them and realize it was me up there.
I miss the little advent calendars we did together and the Christmas cards she’d sign in quivering hand as she was just learning to write. I miss her joy at opening presents and her thankfulness. She was always so appreciative for everything. I miss her being little and still believing and being caught up in the almost overwhelming rush of Christmas spirit.
I’m one of the “Other Ones at Christmas.” For whom this wonderful, joyous season leaves just a trace of sadness and longing. You can see it if you look in my eyes, if you look past the reflection of the Christmas lights and the flash of the smile the season brings me. If you hear me singing a Christmas carol or harmonizing with Frank Sinatra or Bing on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” It will be unmistakable if you happen to glance at me when Chrissy Hynde sings “2000 Miles,” and thinking how I want someone who longs for me like that.
You’ll see that longing. The dream of what it was going to look like if it had all gone according to plan.
So forgive me…forgive us, The Other Ones at Christmas, if you happen to glance at us and see us- for just an instant—seeming a little sad. It’s because we are. It’s because Christmas has the possibility, each year, to be the most perfect few weeks, the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” as the song says. And it could be for us. If just a couple things had worked out differently. We still love this season. We still celebrate. We’re still happy and joyful and none of the magic is lost on us. But underneath it…we feel something a little extra. And it tempers our joy. Please bear with us. All of us believe we’re only one more Christmas away from it being like we dreamed it would.