“What would you like for a Christmas present?”
It was a simple question, sitting in a text message, timestamped and marked as read.
I didn’t have a simple answer.
Peace on Earth would be nice, but I would settle for a government that cares for its people.
Cures to everything: disease, hunger and otherwise? That would be a Christmas miracle.
“Nothing,” I replied, because those are the things I would like forever.
+ + +
I was in middle school when my mother’s parents died, both in the same year. I came home one day, bus-scented and gangly with cowlicks in my hair, to find my mom mascara-smudged in the kitchen. Then four months later we did it again, but with the added benefit of practice.
My parents divorced a couple of years later.
Still, the holidays persisted.
Even as an adult, as life continues to twist our stories, dropping obstacles like so many pine needles, we move forward, one calendar page at a time, each blurring with the next until we go full circle, another December and the motions that we go through.
We have always found ways to make the holidays matter, despite years of grief from losing far too many, or perhaps because of it.
And yet, if there was a Venn diagram of Christmas ghosts, this year would be the overlap. We all have our own tales of life gone past, and our thoughts about the future, but the present? Now is not a gift to anyone. Who among us hasn’t wondered the point of wrapping paper under a fake tree when we live in a world where presidents endorse child molesters, war is on the brink and every third man is a monster?
This is Christmas Present in the Upside Down, and all the lights are flashing.
But it’s not too late. We can’t, despite a lack of solace in the solstice, turn our backs on hope, especially during the holidays. In fact, this may be the year we need the holiday season most of all.
Hope is a spark and a flicker, a beacon of warmth against the long, cold night. It may seem in short supply this year, but all we have to do is look to our children to help us find it. Kids shine with hope, brightly, in dreams of Santa and the laughter of friendship. They wear it like a smile and spread it like petals and sunshine. Relatively speaking, they have more past to look forward to, and they use their hope to light the way. They are our candles in the window and bonfires in the distance. Their hope is a thing to be nurtured and cherished, but also inspiration and a constant reminder of it.
It is Christmas Present, here and now, and it will be again. Along the way our stories will twist and we’ll face the things we wish for and some we wish we wouldn’t. There will be loss and obstacles, questions, joy and darkness. Things will end while others are just beginning. Everything will change, repeatedly. Carry hope, heedless of the season, and it will be the gift that we are giving.
+ + +
The text chimed with the reply, like a bell sending tidings from the season.
“Okay,” was sent in a bright, blue bubble. Then there were three little dots beneath it.
“Then tell me what you need,” it said, and from there the bells kept ringing.
Christmas present photo: Denise Johnson/Unsplash.