I promise, promise, PROMISE I’ve been a good Universe this year. I mean, just look at how I’ve helped Susan. That’s got to earn me a bag of tootsie rolls, at least.
And, come on, you owe me for that foggy Christmas Eve and that red-nose reindeer I helped you out with, so my stocking better be full this year. And none of Mrs. Claus’ fruitcake like you tried to pawn off on me last year—
Um, excuse me. What exactly do you think you’re doing, Universe?
I’m writing the requisite Christmas post. Good tidings and all that.
That’s nice, and I appreciate the sentiment, as always, but I was already gearing up for a nice holiday-themed blog post this year, full of memories and reflection—
And more sentimental, mushy “remember this” writing, I know, I know. But this season is all about the cheer and the joy. And the eggnog. I love the eggnog.
Don’t hate. You know you love the eggnog, too. So look, here’s the deal. You can write your post because, yeah, the holidays do bring out the fluffy side of things, but I’m going to help you along, ok? And we’re going to think happy thoughts full of mistletoe and twinkling icicle lights and tootsie rolls.
I think it’s supposed to be sugarplums. And, wait, mistletoe? Is that supposed to be a sign or something?
Just write your blog post…
I think there comes that shift in what the holidays mean to you. Once upon a time, you believed in Santa Claus – until you spotted the cookies you left for him in the garbage and figured out it was your dad eating them all along. Once upon a time, you abided by the “wait until 7:30 to wake us up and go downstairs” rule your parents made so they got at least a few hours of sleep, spending those early morning hours fighting anticipation by reading in bed or playing a board game with your brothers. Once upon a time, you spent your Christmas Eve home from church, watching holiday movies and reading Christmas stories on the couch because you all had the chicken pox – yes, even Dad.
When you’re a kid, that once upon a time exists with colorful lights and stockings on the mantle and cookies (so many cookies) and strange Italian food lining the counter. When you’re a kid, you believe in magic and miracles and surprises underneath the Christmas tree.
If you’re really lucky, that once upon a time doesn’t end. But more often than not, our version of magic changes, miracles don’t happen when we demand it, but when we least expect it, and gifted surprises don’t come with a pretty bow, but wrapped in something even more special.
I remember unwrapping presents in the living room as a kid, my grandma watching us with a serene smile on her face – that smile that never, ever left – as we handed her bows for safe-keeping before running back to our places, eager to see what other toys we had gotten. As an adult, I wish that I had paid more attention to the gift that was there – the gift that was her – rather than the toys under the tree.
But you were a kid then, Susan. And you know now that sometimes the best gifts aren’t the ones found under a tree, but are those that are hiding in plain sight. You know that now, but you were young then. And then, you didn’t understand aging or loss or even really time. You couldn’t. Have your wish, but you can’t blame yourself for things you can’t control. It’s not up to you. It’s up to me, that’s my job. Your job is to love and appreciate now.
Better late than never.
That was my first experience with a changed Christmas. Sure, I may not have believed in Santa Claus anymore, but this is when the meaning really changed, what it meant. Then, a few years ago, it changed again, when my dog Lucy passed away the day before Christmas Eve.
I had built Christmas up in my mind as this untouchable season. Nothing bad was ever supposed to happen because it was the time of miracles and magic and everything else I had ever learned from stories and watching those holiday movies on TV. So although Lucy was sick, we held out hope that we would be able to bring her home from the vet for a few days, to celebrate the holiday, to be with her family. We went to visit her, to talk to the vet about possibly bringing her home, but she passed away soon after we arrived.
I remember we were heartbroken that Christmas. I remember how much I prayed in the weeks leading up to it; remember how much I begged and pleaded for that Christmas miracle. I remember the anger I felt, the disappointment, the loss of faith when that miracle didn’t come.
Except, your miracle did come. It just didn’t look the way you wanted it to look. Don’t you know by now that I don’t work that way? You get what you need, what’s best for you, even if it hurts for awhile, even if you don’t fully understand it. Because one day you will. And I have a feeling you’re starting to get it.
Besides. I brought you Riley, didn’t I? Yeah. Don’t ever say I don’t do anything for you.
Loving Riley did help me heal from the pain of losing Lucy and her two brothers the following year. And when my parents got their dog, their house seemed whole again. We were always ok, always laughing, always grateful for each other’s company. Always a family. But with so many losses in such a short amount of time, it was hard to be grateful for what we had, to experience a holiday without missing someone, thinking of what it was like with them there.
You don’t get over that. You don’t have to, and you’re not supposed to. You’re always going to miss people, especially now, especially with these moments that are meant to be shared with those who are close to you. But that’s what you do. You be grateful for who is here, now.
Look. What I want you to remember, Susan, most of all, is that these memories are beautiful and special and you should never forget them. But you’re going to continue making memories, get it? And you’re going to make your own traditions the older you get, the more things change. That magic that you felt as a kid? Guess what, it’s not gone. It’s going to continue.
Don’t live in the past. Embrace it, think on it fondly, learn from it, but keep moving forward.
Because there are a lot more memories to be made, Kiddo. And a lot more smiles, a lot more laughter, and many, many more gifts from me.
But I’m not telling what they are! And NO PEEKING this time. Yeah. Santa told me about you…
As always, I should probably say thanks, Universe.
Yeah, you welcome. Can I get back to my letter now?
Have at it…
Make that two bags of tootsie rolls.