Ten years ago this year, Christmas was trying its hardest to suck. With one family member in jail, this was not going to be business as usual and so we knew there was a lot of work to do to make sure the holiday didn’t crash and burn. More importantly we had to still be attentive to what the holiday means for us as a family. It turned out to be one of the most memorable Christmases ever, and not in a horrible way.
I decided it was best to not do Christmas in the house where I grew up. I invited the folks, not knowing if they would bite but they were excited to come. The absence of a family member in their house would have been suffocating. So I moved the furniture around to make there were two beds in my bedroom, bought a tree and made some plans.
One of those plans had to be a Christmas Eve plan. Christmas Eve was always the most important part of Christmas for our family. Mom made sure we all said one thing for which we were grateful. We read the Christmas story (well, my brother did. it was his thing. I loved it) I read the night before Christmas, or sang a song. As I got older my parents let me light some candles to remember those in the world who are suffering (“intolerable hippy child” they must have thought). And we almost always had guests. They were usually misfits, lousy joiners or other homesick souls. Everyone had a place and we could let them know they belong somewhere too.
So we made some time for some of those same kinds of things at my house in San Diego. We read the story, offered some gratitude (which was not easy in the wake of 9/11 and jail business), prayed some prayers. It was, however, still easier than we thought. We had people over, as many as I could scare up from my church, because the opposite of an empty house is a full one.
All together we decorated eggs. Yup. Eggs. I figured, “Why not go all out for the absurd. Lets go for broke.” Its how I roll. My restaurant plans for Christmas day did not go well. I forgot to consider that…. it was Christmas. No one was open, no one except a Chinese buffet. Classic. Ripped right from “A Christmas Story” without the caroling waiters. Egg rolls, egg drop soup, egg fu yung: there were a lot of eggs that year. That year I was doing “my thing.” That year I pulled out all the stops because I had to.
The next year my parents and I had sushi at a wonderful Japanese restaurant (we still forgot to plan ahead and found this place on the fly). Mom and Dad had sushi every Christmas after that for the rest of Dad’s life.
I still have those eggs shells. All twelve of them have survived three moves, two states and thousands of miles. They are hanging on my tree right now. And every time I see them I think about the Christmases after that year when the whole family was together again. No one was absent. I think about my loving church family from San Diego who descended upon us to decorate eggs. I think about Chinese food. Last year was my first Christmas without my Dad alive. I had Chinese food and I smiled a lot.
Not everything in life goes well. The pain of that year did not go away. It did not stop or relent. It still hasn’t. But we threw some hope into the mix. We kept going. It turns out we had more to work with than we thought. That hope has rippled across an entire decade and part of it sits nine feet from me now on my tree.
Is it bad for you now? Rough patch? Hunker down. Be together. Do “your thing,” as best you can. By doing so, you write a subplot to your story. A story that very well might outlive the moment you are in and change forever what happens next.