We made it. We made it through the holidays, some extended family crisis stuff, and through another year. Although I don't normally like to say that I "made it through" the holidays, or that I need to "get through" that special time of year, this year--last year?--it's different. It required a little extra strength at times, here and there. And the payoff was substantial.
For the first time in years, it was a superbly mellow, lovely holiday. It was even a white one! We spent Christmas Eve at mass, then at my husband's sister's house, playing Pictionary, enjoying some snacks, desserts and wine by a lovely fire and blazing Christmas tree. And Christmas Day was just...beautiful. We had it at home. We cooked up an amazing Roast Beast from Ferarro's Market worthy of Dr. Seuss. My mother's family came over, and we enjoyed a leisurely day for the most part, eating, playing games, and chatting by the fire until just before the boys' bedtime. With visits from the boys' dad and two of my closest girlfriends thrown in, it was just an absolutely special, quiet holiday. The kind I had hoped for--right down to a nice walk alone with the dog before cooking up a storm.
This past weekend, Deacon Marty O'Connor (former NHFD chief and professor at University of New Haven) gave a spectacular homily. His are always the best. He has a great way of relating the gospel to the lives of us ordinary people in the most profound, yet understated ways. This past weekend was no exception. Marty, who gave the homily at my friend Patrick's funeral last April, discussed the Feast of the Epiphany, or Three Kings Day. "Things don't always go as planned...and sometimes our journey takes unexpected turns...and we must find a new way home", just as the three wise men chose not to return to Herod, and went home another way.
These small opinings were little gems, however basic. Things for me have not always gone as planned. 2009 certainly held many surprises, with Patrick's death being the biggest. But most of the surprises were beautiful. Even Patrick's death, awful as it was, was a passing into a new stage. He's not gone. He's just not with us anymore. That's how I see it, anyway. The other surprises were the small moments of joy that I might have otherwise overlooked if I had instead focused all of my attention on where I've been and where I'm going, instead of where I am. Right now.
Life changes. Life happens. Life is rollercoaster. This year will no doubt throw us some curve balls, but they will more than likely be small in their proportion to the joyful moments. It's all joyful. To paraphrase Leslie Fiore, a friend and yoga teacher, it's all good because it's all part of our experience and it all makes us who we are. She drove that home in Saturday's Anusara class, and I needed to hear it.
For the first time in years--YEARS, I tell you!--I am not planning anything *major*. There are no divorces, weddings, house sales, house purchases, or moves on the horizon. As far as I know, there are no new children on the horizon, either. No new pets. Not even a new car. I intend to work hard at my job, give 100% to my children, teach--and learn from--my CCD students, hit at least two yoga classes a week, and spend as much time enjoying whatever life brings. Every year seems to bring a new normal. And I'm getting better at it, but sometimes change is hard.
Like last week, for instance. When the flurry of Christmas activity subsided, I found myself a little inconsolable over the fact that this is likely my son Sean's last Christmas believing--truly believing--in Santa. He is almost 8. And although Nolan, who is five, still has at least a couple of years of believing in him, the inevitability of Sean's growing up is bittersweet. I have a hard time letting go of certain stages. While folding laundry with Ian, I burst into tears over it all. He offered a big hug and reminded me that with each new age and stage, there are new and different things to enjoy about the boys and my relationship with them. He is right. I know that. But it's all so precious right now. Life is so beautiful, and so precious, and so fleeting. And as much as it inspires me to savor the moment, that impermanence also makes me a little sad. Or a lot sad, at times.
So on Sunday, after Marty gave his homily, and mass finished and we bundled up to head out in the cold, the old couple behind us in church tapped me on the shoulder. I turned and they were smiling. The wife said, "Your boys were just terrific during mass--just terrific. Even though you know they'd rather be somewhere else, they're good sports about it."
I was flattered for my boys' sake, though the kids at this point were in the aisle making fart noises. Before I could say anything, the woman leaned in and said, "You know, it can seem so overwhelming and exhausting at times we forget how fast it really goes by."
"Obviously you've raised children!" I laughed.
She laughed. Her husband laughed. And then she said, "Just enjoy it. Enjoy every minute of it. Because that way, later on in life, you can let go. It makes it so much easier to let them go."
I thought back to when Sean was three and Nolan was eight months old, and we were in New York on President's Day with my mother, grandmother, brother and sister. My two little dumplings were so little and so adorable back then. I thought they could never be sweeter (which of course, they are) and that I could never love them more (and of course, I do). That day, my Uncle Danny (who lives in the City) met us at Grand Central and gave Sean and Nolan some balloons to let go inside the grand concourse. Together as a family, we let go of the balloons and watched them float up to the astrological masterpiece of a ceiling. The boys and the rest of us craned our necks and watched the balloons float up, up, up, disappearing right inside the building.
Later that day, against the dull, snowy sky of February in New York, we all walked together through Christo and Jeanne-Claude's "Gates" exhibit in Central Park. The landscape was brown and grey, but the fiery saffron of the draping gates was spectacular. Sean ran under them, trying to reach each one. He squealed with delight, running away under billowing orange curtains in the middle of a park. I called after him, totally nervous he'd drop out of sight. But Danny said, "Let him go. We're right here. He's going to be okay." And so Sean ran and ran and ran, giggling and smiling, the most free of spirits at that moment in a city of 8 million people.
Two of my favorite memories stem from one day with my family. What a gift.
I'll keep enjoying it. I will learn to let go. And I will learn to receive the new memories with an open heart.
Run, boys. Run.