Remembering That It Happened Once
Remembering that it happened once,
We cannot turn away the thought,
As we go out, cold, to our barns
Toward the long night’s end, that we
Ourselves are living in the world
It happened in when it first happened,
That we ourselves, opening a stall
(A latch thrown open countless times
Before), might find them breathing there,
Foreknown: the Child bedded in straw,
The mother kneeling over Him,
The husband standing in belief
He scarcely can believe, in light
That lights them from no source we see,
An April morning’s light, the air
Around them joyful as a choir.
We stand with one hand on the door,
Looking into another world
That is this world, the pale daylight
Coming just as before, our chores
To do, the cattle all awake,
Our own frozen breath hanging
In front of us; and we are here
As we have never been before,
Sighted as not before, our place
Holy, although we knew it not.
~ Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997
The last words in Berry's poem, "our place Holy, although we knew it not", are guideposts for my navigation through the holiday madness that seems to be a constant companion to Christmas. This poem has become a reminder to explore the humble, ordinary aspects of Christmas (and everyday life) in order to find what's Holy right in front of me. To look for the true spirit of the holiday in Ted's favorite sausage and cheddar breakfast strata (complete with Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup), in listening to the kids play Scrabble while I'm making dinner, in going for a walk on the beach or sitting around the table and catching up with my favorite people in the world.
Don't get me wrong, I was a willing and exuberant participant in the Christmas madness when the kids were little. The hours spent trying to decipher instructions for assembling and applying stickers to hundreds of pieces of plastic are a distant but sweet memory. We tried to make sure our kids had a healthy dose of Christmas 'magic' when they were little and looking back on those Christmas mornings, I wouldn't changed a thing. It was the 'right' kind of Christmas for that time in our lives. But I've had to retool my thoughts about what that magic looks like when Santa has been debunked and the kids send me text messages with their Christmas wishlists.
We've started to create the Dougherty 2.0 Christmas traditions and it's a collaborative effort (and another chance for me to practice my 'I'm-not-overbearing, I-just-love-you-that-much' shtick). Lord knows, I need help getting my act together as a Mom to a bunch of funny, smart, brave, compassionate, and committed young adults, and thank God they're co-creating our new Christmas magic right along with me. We play cards, make cookies, eat extravagant meals, drink wine, talk about how handsome George is, watch movies, wrap presents (and come up with creative gift tags), watch the pups while they open their presents, take saunas, make fires, play Chuck-It with George and Aldo, go on photo safaris, and a hundred other ordinary tasks that accumulate into a lifetime of cherished traditions .
Now that Jack and Will (and soon Sadie) 'come home' for Christmas, I'm the one who is vibrating in anticipation of a Christmas surprise....except it's not a Barbie townhouse, it's our boys arriving home from Madison. When I walk in the porch and see Jack's shoes by the door, or Will's camera bag on the dining room table, I'm reminded how the space they've left behind can be, so quickly, reclaimed and reoccupied. That while our kids are growing up, they are not growing away and home will always be on Rittenhouse Avenue. When the house is full again, a deeply rooted contentment settles over me because I am "...living in the world It happened in when it first happened." I believe the world holds echoes of all life in its bones and the story of Mary giving birth to her son in a stable happened on the same Earth that I live on now.....that we, and our stories, are all connected. Berry's poem is about holding space for wonder and belief as we move through our lives; doing the mundane in concert with the miraclous. And that's what I carry with me as I spend this Christmas with Ted and the kids....the recognition that in the end, all moments are holy and all existence is magic. No assembly or stickers required.