The multi-colored lights still hang off the front edge of my roof, and nets of the same still blanket the shrubs below. My Christmas tree is up, and there are still things underneath it. Most of the gifts have found their way into their permanent places, but a few boxes and baskets remain – to the great delight of my two cats who relish sleeping in them. That this is the state of things on January 15th is strange – Christmas is usually stowed in the attic a couple of days past Epiphany.
But this isn’t a usual year. Pandemic deaths and hospitalizations are at record levels; there are thousands of National Guard soldiers camped in the Capitol, and a threat of violence hangs over the capitols of all fifty states; the deaths of my father-in-law and a dear friend brought loss and sharp-edged grief into our everyday lives which cannot be marked and lessened with shared prayers, services, and meals. There’s a heaviness to this time weighing on my body, mind, and soul: is that why the tree still stands? I can’t say.
This morning, I opened the curtains, fed the cats, and greeted the light of a new day. Looking at the tree and all the work it represents, something shifted. Instead of boxing ornaments and lights as quickly as possible, I’m going to turn the take down into a spiritual practice. I’ll remember the Christmases past that each ornament represents; I’ll remember holiday gatherings with my father-in-law, Bob, and be grateful for his presence. I’ll recall the Christmas day that Ben and his wife Lena dropped by – and the laughs we shared over the mess of Matchboxes, Legos, wrapping paper, and ribbon that surrounded us. When all the trappings and trimmings of Christmas 2020 are gone, I’ll do something I haven’t had the heart to do yet: give Bob and Ben back to God with love and gratitude.
As for life beyond my own door: I can’t cure the pandemic, but I can certainly make sure I’m doing my part to lessen its damage; I can’t prevent mob violence, but I can do my part to act firmly and wisely, and avoid embittering and embarrassing others.
Love God, love self, and love neighbor. It shouldn’t surprise me that it comes down to this once again. But sometimes, it does.