25 years ago, my parents decided to have a small Christmas party in their new house, inviting a small group of their special friends. In some ways, the party has changed very little from its original incarnation. Every year, people subtly begin asking in September whether we have picked a date yet so they can mark it on their calendars. Every year, my mother bests herself with witty turns of phrase on the invitation. Every year, my dad makes sure that everyone’s glass is full at all times. Every year, there is a giant 12 foot tree in the living room. Every year, we take our family picture in front of it right before we open the front door. And every year, we invite only our special friends.
Of all of my favorite Christmas activities – and good Lord there are many – doing our Christmas card is high on the list. Normally, I love coming up with pithy holiday puns for the greeting. I relish spending countless hours I don’t actually have looking back through pictures and choosing the ones that capture the personality of the boys, even if their hair isn’t brushed or their clothes don’t match. The pictures that tell the story of us.
But this year I have been uninspired. My heart just hasn’t been in it.
Thanksgiving has never been my favorite holiday. Don’t get me wrong – I love sitting around a table with my family and eating. Those are, in fact, my two favorite things in the world.
I don’t have anything against Thanksgiving. I’ve just never been inspired by it. Maybe it’s because we are lucky enough to routinely sit around the table and eat giant meals with our families. Maybe it’s because Thanksgiving has none of the magic and majesty of other holidays. Maybe it’s because Thanksgiving is entirely… contrived. It isn’t about anything except being together. Being thankful. Which is, of course, exactly why some people love it. I get it.
Ever since my brother got engaged 4 months ago, I have been thinking about my rehearsal dinner toast. But every time I sit down to write, my attempts come up feebly short and I go back to mainlining M&Ms and coffee. I can count on one hand the number of times in my life that I have been at a loss for words (this is the fourth in case you’re curious) and I don’t know why. It might be because I subconsciously feel the need to overcompensate for the absence of our witty and eloquent father, who no doubt would have given the greatest toast ever. It might be because I am trying to figure out how to get through the whole thing without blubbering.
I have not been to church since my dad died. It’s not because I am angry or because my faith has been shaken. Or because I am worried that the sound of my heels clicking on the stone floor will trigger a memory of the last time I walked down that center aisle, holding my mother’s hand.
No, it is none of those things. It is simply that my heart was not yet ready for the enormity of emotion that fills me every time I sit in those pews. I still don’t know if I am ready. But today is All Saints’ Day.
This weekend is my 20th high school reunion. That’s what I tell people anyway, because it’s just easier. But high school is a bit of a misnomer for us. Our class of 100 went to school together for twelve years.
When you go to school with people for that long, it’s not just high school. It’s your whole childhood.
You walk with each other down the long hallway on the first day of first grade and you pretend not to be scared. You lose teeth together. You chase each other on the playground. You get lice. You learn bad words. You get braces. You get left out. You fall in love for the first time.
You can read Part I of the story here.
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve cried this summer. I’m fine, remember?
I didn’t cry at my dad’s memorial service. In fact, I reveled in the celebration of his life and took odd comfort in consoling the people who came and cried on my shoulder.
I didn’t cry as I spent 8 weeks living in my parents’ house, the house I grew up in, surrounded by his things. I looked at his clothes hanging in the closet, at his briefcase filled with law review articles, at the pictures of him scattered on tabletops and bookcases. I liked seeing those traces of him everywhere, as if he was about to bound through the doorway at any moment, ready to kiss my mom on the forehead and tell the boys a silly joke.
38 years ago, our mothers asked each other to be godmothers to their new daughters. 27 years after that, we were each other’s maids of honor. Fast forward another 3 and we are godmothers to each other’s babies. And all the moments of all the years in between are just too good to reduce to words.
When we were younger, I idolized her incredible spirit of adventure, her fearlessness, her inimitable ability to make everyone laugh, her giant heart that embraced everything and everyone. I still do. But now I admire how she didn’t sacrifice those qualities on the altar of adulthood. Instead, she effortlessly parlayed all of them into her marriage, her children and her work.