The holiday season can invite reminiscence, a collective conjuring of the Ghost of Christmas Past. We remember things as we think they were. We rejoice in memories of good times, wince at the lingering ache of sad times. We picture family, friends, lovers, many of them now gone from our own lives. Death. Distance. Discord. Time.I remember being a kid in the ’60s, excited to open the colorful gifts that Santa left under our Christmas tree for me to discover far too early on the morning of December 25th. Games! Toys! Captain Action! Christmas Eves with family, gathered at my Uncle Mike and Aunt Mary’s house. FOOD! A 1970 road trip to see my grandparents in Missouri, delayed by car trouble that turned into a struggle half-way across Indiana. Singing carols with other kids at the Italian-American Athletic Club Christmas party. Aging (in theory) out of a personal belief in Father Christmas, and playing Santa’s helper (specifically, Santa’s Chief Elf Myron) in a phone call to the child of one of Dad’s co-workers.
A little kid becomes a teen, with Doc Savage paperbacks and Beatles records on Christmas morning. A college student. There is another family trip to Missouri, spent recovering from a stomach bug and missing a girl I’d met at school. The college student becomes a college graduate. And suddenly, a young adult, alone one Christmas morning with a stack of old comic books and a bottle of Jack Daniels, knowing solitude won’t last, but knowing it has to be that way in the moment, knowing a loved one is dealing with something much worse. Years fly by. Jobs change, addresses change, circles of friends change. Faces that were always there aren’t there anymore. We deck the halls, but feel this loss we may be able to define, but can’t deny.
So we close our eyes. And we wish.
In the mind’s eye, all is as it was. Everyone we ever loved remains with us. I remember the bright and the dark: coming home from an overnight Christmas Eve shift to share a bottle of champagne and a Christmas kiss with my girlfriend, whom I would marry the following year; my chicken pox Christmas, when I was 36; Christmas Eves with my wife and daughter, eating Chinese food and cruising through Lights On The Lake; doing a Christmas radio show while trying to cope with tragedy, playing Gary Frenay’s “Christmas Without You” and becoming too choked up to speak, unable to continue; watching the wide eyes of my daughter as she grew up under the bright glow of the season, and delighting again this week in the sight of her and her mother lighting the Chanukah candles together; seeing fewer and fewer places and faces at family gatherings, always aware of the price that time demands of us all.
And still I believe.
I may not believe what you believe. I may not believe what you think I believe. But I believe. I believe in our promise. I believe in our capacity to grow, to be better. I believe in a magic we make together.
I wish you magic. I wish you hope. I wish you love. I wish you the merriest. Somehow. Santa will find you. Light will find you. Believe in light. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.