It was the best Christmas Day we’ve had; I really do think so.
No one had claim to us. We rolled from bed on our own accord; turned on the 2015 Yule Log (one must do what one must without a real fireplace) and leisurely sipped our coffees. Watched the children’s faces brighten in the kitschy light of our eclectic tree. Garish blues, greens, yellows, reds. I once snubbed such trees for sophisticated white lights, rich gold and crystal elegance.
But now, the tinsel and the glitter and the candy-shades are a sweet, familiar wonder. They remind me of our happy, bright kids and what I like to think is their happy, bright childhood. It reminds me of their fleeting glee over such razzle and dazzle.
After we opened gifts, we lounged around the family room as the morning grew across our sugar-dusted neighborhood. When tummies started rumbling, I threw together a brunch of sizzling sausages, salty bacon, toasted English muffins dripping in butter, sunshine-yellow eggs.
There will be no relative gatherings until tomorrow and the next day; no stores open, no jobs calling. No reason to hurry, no cause to rush.
Long, idling movies. Old, well-worn sweaters, steaming mugs of something-or-another, new, thick wool socks.
The kids quietly played with their new things.
I dreamed and wrote idling words, knowing they were a waste of time—pure indulgence—and that they were just for me.
Brian worked on assembling his newest creation—a herringbone-patterned coffee table made from pallet boards. Yesterday, he delivered another recycled-wood table to a bright young entrepreneur furnishing his new office space in Minneapolis’s warehouse district.
This whole thing of creating, designing, repurposing and upcycling has been an interesting new journey for us.
Good for our marriage, even; another common venture that knits us together. A reminder that what is scarred, faulty and undesirable can be refashioned into something new, lovely and good. In both the physical and the metaphysical realms we inhabit together.
Who knows if this venture will ever be anything more than a simple pleasure that brings us a simple kind of joy? Joy over creating something out of nothing or making what was discarded desirable again?
Sometimes, I’ve asked myself why we care about any of this.
But the answer is the same, even when I forget it for awhile: because it gives us a way to pay homage to one of our deepest values.
And one realization floating around the peripheral of this last year is that what is simple, humble and imperfect is sometimes what is perfect.
In our relationships. In our endeavors. In our home.
We’ve remodeled many homes together, and during those early experiences, I felt frustrated by a desire for big, beautiful, new, and perfect. Because that is the sort of home that seemed, at that time, to be best. And within in, WE would be our best.
It was the same with achievement: anything less than an advanced degree, an easy marriage, prestige in a job, fatness of bank account, well-behaved, well-accomplished children, physical attractiveness and a strong network was proof of some terrible failure needing reconciliation.
Sometimes, I wish a wise old woman would have taken me aside and whispered the magic spell that would have dissolved such fallacies. Oh the heartache, the depression and the pain it would have saved me from.
And yet, I sense that it wouldn’t have mattered; that I wouldn’t have known how to make my heart believe and understand such words. Any more than I would have appreciated, at the time, the words penned by the Apostle Paul:
I know how to live when I am poor.
And I know how to live when I have plenty.
I have learned the secret of being happy at any time
in everything that happens.
I have learned to be happy when I have enough to eat
and when I do not have enough to eat.
I have learned to be happy when I have all that I need
and when I do not have the things I need.
I love the words: I have learned the secret.
It isn’t something told or born into.
It is a transformation that happens within, I think—and when it does, the world appears a more benign, hospitable place.
Some people learn the secret early, some later and others—tragically—never.
Sometimes I imagine what I’ll share with my children from my own life: the tales of loss and redemption. The soaring heights of happiness, the most onerous sort of pain. Profound wisdom, lofty ignorance. Ugly truths, and yet beautiful ones, too. Imagine that I’ll urge them to listen and learn, so the canvases of their lives aren’t striated with as many imperfections as mine.
But—then again—perhaps I’ll keep just keep quiet and let them live their lives. After all, it seems the person with the muddied storyline has the same opportunity for learning the secret to happiness as one living the pristine fairy tale.
And so, really, does it matter how much we are able to manipulate the landscape of our journey? It’s all shifting and temporary, anyway.
When beauty, health, love, wealth and career opportunity that were here today, are gone tomorrow, can we be satisfied by the memory of love? The beauty of a sunset? The wealth of a good chuckle? The opportunity to be selfless and kind, even when the world no longer sees it or cares?
And so I hope my children learn—I hope I learn—not the secret to success, but the secret to seeing the beauty and the good and the hand of God, in no matter what comes.
If not right away, then at least eventually.