Published: January 2009
My memory can play funny tricks on me. I'll be thinking back to a trip my husband Dan and I made three years ago, and I'll find myself wondering, 'how did we manage to do that with Cecilia?' That might seem like a very normal question, except the fact that my daughter is only 18 months old and was nowhere close to being on the scene at that stage in our lives. I'll be trying to remember how we worked the trip around her nap and eating schedule, how we kept her entertained in the car, whether we left her at my parents' house, and then I'll catch myself, realizing with a start that there was actually a past that did not include Cecilia. Her arrival on our scene has been so all-consuming, her tiny little being becoming so immediately and intricately woven into our beings, that it is almost inconceivable to believe that there was a time when she was not.
Here is another memory trick. It is a less frequent trick, but it strikes with particular strength and predictability at this time of the year – Christmas. It is the mirror image of my imagining Cecilia back into occasions before her birth. It is the imagining of those who I have loved and lost forward into a present, a present long after their death. When I taste a square of Christmas almond cake – homemade from a recipe lovingly handed down by my Grandma Jean – it seems natural to feel the nearness of her gentle and creative presence, to lapse briefly into thinking that she is just in the other room. When I tell my daughter stories of Santa Claus, when Dan and I find ourselves being more generous and lavish in our groceries and gift shopping through the weeks of December, I am intuitively thinking of my Grandfather, hearing his hearty, deep laugh ringing in my mind, laughing to myself at his disorganized, boyish, and joyous approach to buying presents for loved ones. And when Dan throws himself into the Christmas season, when he tells me jokes and hangs our outdoor lights, and surprises me with buying my favourite seasonal treats, I see his father's face shining on his own, and it seems an impossibility that his father could have died two years ago, leaving us far too early, leaving before I got to know him as well as I would have wanted, before Cecilia got to know him at all.
My falsified rememberings of my daughter bring a smile to my lips, as I am struck once again by how completely she has changed my life. The daydreams of my grandparents and father-in-law – while not unpleasant – leave me not with a smile, but with a sorrow. Because ultimately those daydreams are a reminder of how hard it is to accept that someone who lived, and breathed, and loved, and laughed yesterday could be no longer here today.
Mary Oliver - poet theologian -writes in her recent book Thirst,
"It's not the weight you carry - books, bricks, grief - it's all in the way you embrace it, balance it, carry it, When you cannot, and would not, Put it down."
And perhaps it's not a trick of the memory. Perhaps it's no coincidence that Christmas is the time when we mostly keenly feel the people we love inextricably entwined into our past, present, future. Because this is the time of year when we are invited to contemplate the gift, blessing, and pain of love in the earthiest and most personal of terms. We meet Mary, saying 'yes' to all of the usual, plus a whole slew of unusual, circumstances which make motherhood and childbirth so risky. We witness the birth of Jesus in a cold and smelly barn, we wonder at the special guests who trek to that barn to meet him and to utter strange and heavy things about who he will grow up to be. Our hearts are opened to Mary and Joseph as they fall in love with this tiny boy who comes into their lives utterly dependent on them, and who will leave their lives amid heartbreak and scandal. We wonder at the words of our faith which tell us that this baby Jesus is not just the beloved child of Mary and Joseph, but is also the beloved child of God, that God is as deeply invested in the joy and trepidation of loving this fragile creature as any of us are in giving ourselves to another in love. More than that, the ways in which we carry the weight of love, and as Mary Oliver says, choose to 'embrace it, balance it, and carry it', can actually be said to be reflections of, windows into, the heart of God....
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