How can so many things be exactly the same, when so much is completely different?
I reach under the desk where I have worked for fourteen years, easily retrieving 2008 from the stack of calendars. The entries on December 5th could be from any one of those years: the monthly meeting of a committee on which I’m an ex officio member (Latin for there until I die, quit, or get fired); dinner out with the man who is still my partner; my university’s annual Carol Night.
Yet the things I remember most were not written down. On that particular December Friday, I was less than three weeks away from my second Christmas without my mother, struggling to recreate the festive, hospitable celebrations she always threw. My brother and I had gotten through the first Christmas valiantly, determined to keep the family tradition going in a house where no one cooked anymore. I had no idea that the second one would be so much harder—that “look how brave we are” would segue into “Wait, we have to do this again?”
That year found me sobbing in my childhood bedroom between courses, but eventually we pulled off seven Christmas dinners at Dad’s house. The grief got better. The dinner didn’t. Older relatives passed, and younger cousins’ babies arrived, shifting their holiday center of gravity to their own homes. We kept it going even when there were only enough of us for one table.
Then my father died, and we sold the Christmas house. The End.
When I think of that nerve-wracked girl ten years ago (my younger self always feels like a girl, even though she was a 43 year-old woman), I just want to wrap my arms around her. She was trying so hard to preserve something special for her father, her baby brother (almost 30), and the whole extended family. It was as though, by stepping into her mother’s kitchen and tying on her apron, by conjuring up the aroma of roasting turkey and the taste of the plainest stuffing in the world and the sound of cranberry sauce sliding out of a can, she could hold everyone’s pain at bay.
And what would that girl have thought of me? Could she have imagined a December 5th not spent making lists and juggling tasks and remembering to place an order at the poultry stall in the Reading Terminal Market? Would she have regarded with pity or envy my current Christmas plans? (Sing for Midnight Mass; enjoy a cozy morning; make a batch of apple-pecan-cornbread stuffing; bring it to the cousins’ house; delight in everyone’s company; head home after the kids have opened their presents; go to bed without having to clean the kitchen.)
In these last ten years I have lost so many people, places, and roles I never imagined I could do without. Yet other people and new experiences have enriched my life immeasurably, in ways I could not have envisioned. You’re going to be a published author with a busy speaking schedule, I’d like to whisper to former me. You’re going to have a good relationship with your partner’s grown children. Your brother is going to fall in love with a man you adore, and widen the family. You are going love more, not less.
On this December 5th, I will spend the evening with students and alumni, eating pizza and wrapping presents for a children’s charity. I will enjoy what is, knowing that it will not last.
Moving with grace toward the unknowable future, I will trust God for the rest.
Author, public speaker, and educator Christine Eberle passionately explores the connections between Scripture, spirituality, and everyday life. A college campus minister for 25 years, Christine is currently the Director of Campus Ministry at Gwynedd Mercy University near Philadelphia. She also leads retreats, sings as a church cantor, performs dramatic interpretations of Biblical women. In person and on the page, Christine desires both to feed the faithful and offer nourishment to people skeptical or weary of religion, insistently asking: Where is God in all this? She has found answers to this question in some surprising places, and she shares those answers--and those places--in her first book, Finding God in Ordinary Time. You can follow her at christine-marie-eberle.com.
Christine urges you to learn more about The Mission of Mercy Neighborhood Ministries of Philadelphia, Inc., an organization designed to create partnerships and services that respond to the needs of those who are poor in the North Philadelphia community, especially women, children and persons with special needs. Visit www.mercyneighbors.org.