Five years ago, my beloved grandfather passed away. I have a reoccurring, monthly dream that he is “back” for a visit. It is so real that I can see the lines on his tan, leathery, face and smell the fish residue on his hands. I just keep hugging him and holding him, realizing that he is only here for a short time and then he is returning to heaven. I feel panicky, but grateful. I know that our time with him is an unexpected gift, and I don’t quite know what to do with it. I wake up feeling sad, but blessed.
I have been made very aware of the valuable gift of life this year. Eight months ago, we welcomed a new life into our family, Elijah Ocean; our chatty, gregarious, goofy little bundle of chub. The day before he was born, a very dear man passed away. He was my soccer coach, a childhood mentor, and a long-time family friend. He was a beautiful artist; a potter. He made the world a better place just by doing what he loved. His life was a gift to everyone who knew him.
Just a few days ago, we said goodbye to another pure and beautiful spirit; my parents’ neighbor, a young man who loved dogs, sunshine and baking. He brought my two year old, Asher, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies almost every time we visited. He had a laugh that warmed your soul and the contentedness of a person living in deep peace. To know him was a blessing.
Here we are, December 16th, and I have yet to spend a penny on Christmas gifts. This year, saying goodbye to friends and welcoming new life, has left me feeling rather contemplative. I feel thankful, but burdened. With admiration and empathy, I watch the families whose loved ones have left them behind. What will Christmas be like for them this year? I think of my sweet grandmother, whose strength astounds me, as she faces another Christmas without the love of her life by her side. In this light, material gifts seem frivolous, and the gift of time seems even more pertinent. I don’t want to live my life as I do in my reoccurring dream, panicky about the fleetingness of life. I do want to live my life mindful of the souls that surround me and who give me purpose; my children, my husband, my parents and my in-laws, my brother, who is arriving in a week from Central America to spend Christmas with us, and our friends in the community, who surround us like family, and help to raise our children.
We went to a little local tree farm last weekend with our boys’ Godparents and chopped down a Christmas tree. It is now standing in our living room, adorned with lights and ornaments, dropping needles on the floor for my 8 month old to pick up and shove in his mouth. Asher had one of the best days of his life, running around the farm trying to find the perfect tree. He sucked on his first candy cane and enjoyed an after- tree-cutting chocolate milk at Starbucks while the adults sat around indulging in gourmet coffee drinks.
There are no presents under the tree yet, and at this point, neither of my children knows enough to expect them. Asher is content in his excitement, waking up every morning, running down the stairs, and helping me plug in the lights. He gazes at the ornaments, distinguishing between whose is whose, smiling pridefully at the ones he carefully hung. These gifts of time spent together with the ones I love are all I really want for Christmas this year. I want to hug my brother and listen to his stories. I want to snuggle with my babies, kiss my husband and eat good food. My heart will be full and perhaps heavy as I spend time praying for the lonely, the widowed, and the left behind; but I will be thankful as I remember the lives that have inspired and enriched my own experience here on earth.