My prayers were mostly thank yous. I love it that over and over again in Anne Lamott’s books she says her two favorite prayers are “help, help, help” and “thank you, thank you, thank you.” I was saying “help, help, help” a few days ago when I was preparing for Christmas, visiting my mother in Mississippi, trying not to feel guilty about not having her here with us in Memphis, and trying to let go of my obsessive-compulsive behavior that peeks at this time of year. I even considered, briefly, finding a 12-steps meeting somewhere the other day. Instead, I took a few deep breaths and said help help help and He did.
First He helped by blessing my visit with my mother last week. Her joy over the gifts I took her and just over my being there. Her growing contentment at the assisted living home she moved into almost two years ago. The relative calm in the cloud of her progressive Alzheimer’s.
Next He helped by bringing all three of my “children” home safely, Jason making it in on Christmas Eve from Wyoming. And then the joy of watching the three of them, now 25, 26 and 30, learn the new steps to the dance that siblings do when they don’t see each other but once or twice a year.
Some how (thank you thank you thank you) I was able to relax (yes-me!) and enjoy being with them and not get overly stressed by preparations. The Christmas Eve service at St. John was beautiful. Again, surrounded by my children in the pew felt like oil being poured over my head. Healing oil. And the music! Our choir sings well with the angels. Our leader, Margaret, with babe in arms, chants and directs and it’s heavenly. Thank you thank you thank you.
After the Liturgy we continued the feast in the parish hall, where we enjoyed so many visitors, like Stacy and Jared, who were here from Nashville to visit family. I loved this: two of my Goddaughters great with Child as we celebrate Christ’s birth. Hannah due any day now… having a Christmas baby. And Stacy due right around Pascha…. A double celebration of new life. Thank you thank you thank you.
Many people stayed until the wee hours of the morning, as the Feast Committee worked to set up and clean up. Ethan and Claire, Brandon and Caitlyn, Jeremy and Amy. Thank you thank you thank you.
Saint Isaac the Syrian says it so eloquently:
This Christmas night, peace was bestowed upon the whole world; so let no one threaten. This is the night of the Most Gentle One; let no one be cruel. This is the night of the Most Humble One; let no one be proud. Now is the day of joy; let us not revenge. Now is the day of goodwill; let us not be mean. In this day of peace let us not be conquered by anger….Let us open our door to those who ask our forgiveness. Now the Divine Being took upon Himself the seal of humanity, in order for humanity to be decorated by the seal of Divinity.
Christmas morning at our house was pretty wonderful. No “schedule.” One by one we wandered into the den from the four corners of the house. Coffee wafting up the stairs. Bubbly mimosas and Jon’s special Bloody Mary mix and the smell of bacon and cinnamon rolls was, well, intoxicating. In a good way.
Usually I’m so worried about my “list” of which casseroles need to be fixed by what time, what needs to thaw, go in the oven, the table set perfectly, etc. that I often miss the dance. Not this time. I remembered Bud Smith’s song that I listened to on the beach in November, “Let Go,” … and I did. It was like having my own private 12-steps meeting in my head. And when I let go, guess what happened? I made room for everyone else to be a part of the doings. Someone set the table. Someone mixed the sweet potato casserole together. Someone washed dishes as I assembled the marinated green beans. Someone helped arrange the Honey Baked Ham slices (well… everyone likes to mess with the ham and nibble on those crunchy brown sugar crusty pieces, you know?) and… it was peaceful.
We scaled down our gift-giving, and everyone seemed to enjoy the small goodies and surprises so much. Music is always involved, and as we took turns playing everyone’s new CDs we danced and laughed and it was magical. (Sorry, my hubby wouldn’t let me post pictures of us dancing…. Beth even caught us on her phone video-cam….. sigh.)
Because of my foot surgery in January, Beth went to Build-A-Bear and made me “Scrubby”…. She has cowgirl boots and a cowgirl hat … but also scrubs… including little scrub booties, hat, and surgical mask. I’m going to take her with me on January 8 for the surgery. She will wear a cowgirl boot on her right foot and a green bootie on her left foot… the one that’s being operated on. I’ll hug her while I’m waiting anxiously for the procedure and she’ll sit with my sweet hubbie in the waiting room until I’m done. I know he will enjoy that. Having her company while he waits for me. Can’t you just picture that? Dr. William Cushman in the waiting room at Campbell Clinic, with… “Scrubby.” Makes me smile. Everyone loves Scrubby. Even Jon.
Beth is going to the Outback Bowl in Tampa on New Year’s Day, so she found a UT hat in her stocking… as did her Dad… we’ll be watching it at home and looking for her on TV in the sea of Orange. Here’s our fearless leader … with his Saint Basil figurine (his patron saint, whose name day is January 1) and his new Energizer Bunny, which he found in his stocking. He just keeps going and going and going…
I love this picture … the Boiles gave us peronalized William Sonoma aprons… so we look like real cooks. Actually, I (not we) do cook… at least once a year… at Christmas!
Just before my nap I read a few more chapters in Traveling Mercies, my current Anne Lamott read. Each chapter is a yummy essay. I loved the one called “Gypsies.” She went with friends to see a movie called Latcho Drom¸ which means “Safe Passage.” It’s a 1993 film about the Romany gypsies who traveled from India to Spain, preserving their culture through music and dance. Lamott’s reflections on the movie speak volumes about our own tribes, our own lives, and especially about the sandwich generation of women caring for aging parents and still raising children and trying to embrace middle age. A taste of Lamott’s feast of words, as she decribes these gypsy women:
The mothers, women in the last gasps of carnality, are the sandwich women, like us—taking care of their own mothers, taking care of the young. But oh, the old women dancing: the old women who shine with the incredible stirring of spirit that has kept them lit over the years, even though the winds howl all around them…. The crowd of gypsies—squatters and outlaws, outside in winter, huddled together at train stations, cold and exposed—stands around while the music begins to play. Then the old women seem to cackle, Oh, what the hell, and they start dancing. They’ve stopped chasing anything down, and you feel the rush of life force that this frees up inside them. [I love this.] Their gnarled witchy fingers are on the carotid artery of the culture, the link between the living and the dead, and in their faces and their bodies and their movement, you see the beauty of having come through…. It’s so sexy and intimate and stark that you almost have to look away… Watching the old gypsy women most carefully, of course, are the children, the girl children.
Oh, this reminds me so much of my dear friend Urania, who died on October 6. And of our dance at a wedding in August. And of her life and how all of us “girl children” especially had been watching her for years. Later Lamott describes how one of the younger girls, around twelve, practices dancing after watching the crone. She talks about the freedom of the young girl and the freedom of the crone and how hard it is to be where we are now… stuck in the middle. But also about how to get unstuck:
But if the fortune of the girl is in the newness, in being the bud, and the fortune of the crone is in the freedom, the lack of attachment or clinging, where does that leave a youngish middle-aged American woman like me? Maybe it leaves me needing to consider how wealthy I am in the knowledge that the girl of my past is still in me while a marvelous dreadlocked crone is in the future—and that I hold both of these females inside.
As I read her words on Christmas afternoon while my family napped, I realized that I wasn’t as exhausted as usual. The doing hadn’t done me in. Maybe because, as Lamott says:
…life is not about doing. The crones understand this, and it gives them all kinds of time—time to get much less done, time for all these holy moments.
Holy moments. That’s what we had in our home this Christmas. Okay, teardrops are making my computer keys slippery now… sniff. Blow. Wipe. Maybe I’ve begun to practice cronehood, as Lamott says: watch. Smile. Dance. And maybe I’ll have dreadlocks some day. But probably not. After all, she does live in California.