Archive for December, 2009

the shortest day…the longest night

Monday, December 21st, 2009

Dec. 21 marks the winter solstice. On this day the sun is at its lowest angle in the sky at noon for those of us in the northern hemisphere.

I think about the druids at Stonehenge, seeing this alignment between heelstone and the solstice marker, announcing with confidence that the days will get longer and longer now, the depths of winter will slowly end.

I think about this a day after taking a warm nap on the back porch. After a whirlwind of last minute shopping, miraculously walking into the last store and finding just the right gift (I hope) and chocolate, chocolate, chocolate…(I held back on that) it was good to get home and lay quietly in the last hours of sunlight, a cool breeze, the sweetness of air from Canada, and the warm sun….winter days spent like this are some of the best days in Texas.

Meanwhile, my daughters are digging out the car in nyc, preparing for what I hope will be a safe, uneventful day-long drive to Virginia. The road reports are a bit better, but I won’t relax until I hear that they have safely arrived.

This will be my second Christmas without them, and no I’m not used to it yet, but I’ll see them soon and we’ll recreate Christmas as best we can. I remember them on Christmas mornings, so eager to receive when they were little, so eager to give gifts as they grew older. I remember I realized this a few years ago, and felt proud at the thought of the good people they grew to be.

“It’s better to give than receive” … a simplification of the biblical version, but deeply meaningful. It’s a turning point in the life of a child I think, one of those key moments of realization that caring for others can warm ones heart. There’s a moment just before you give a gift. You hope it’s right. You hope it’s welcomed. You hope you haven’t overstepped, haven’t under-thought. You hope you listened to them close enough, you’ve thought about what would bring them comfort, joy. You look for that pop in their eyes when they realize what the gift is, the “how did you know?” wonder, the spontaneous hug….

I remember the fear of the negative response, finding the gift in the donation bag next to the front door a few days later, or in the trash can…

Gifting is tricky.

You can see that receiving a gift also takes some thoughtfulness… . You can’t force the real reaction, it has to just happen. Its not hard though, if a person can relax, meet the eyes of the person offering, hold the gift in front of you, open it with energy, meet their eyes again, look down, and be amazed. Smile, knowing you were in the giver’s thoughts, when they made their list, as they saved up, went place to place seeking it, or the parts to make it, as they stood in line, as they put it together, wrapped it, and wrote the tag, placed it beneath the tree on Christmas Eve, dug for it Christmas morning and handed it to you, eyes bright with anticipation. You feel their care for you as you meet their eyes and receive their gift, the long string of thought and effort symbolized in the ribbon wrapped around the paper.

I remember being a poor gift recipient one birthday especially. Mom had put a heavy box in my lap, then was sitting on the couch watching, anticipating my reaction. I tore at the paper, inside was an amazing die-cast tractor, rubber tires, steering wheel that moved the front wheels, very detailed engine….without thinking i looked up at her and asked where the trailer was…what a doof i was. I remember she cried. I don’t think I learned anything that day, but the memory stuck with me and years later, finding gifts in the donate pile or the trash, I understood. To reject a gift is to risk rejecting the long string of caring, played out over time.

My friend Frank and I talked about a paper he’s writing on the subject of caring. It’s helped me to think about caring on this shortest of days, caring for, being cared for, caregiving, caretaking.

“Its better to give than receive” I think it means that by receiving the care and love implicit in a gift that is offered, you give a gift to the giver.

I never saw that until just now.

Be warm on this longest of nights. Think of all those people who are thinking of you, anticipating that moment when you receive their offering.

Thinking of you all at this turning point in the seasons.
Be good to each other.

remembering, making and shipping

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

I had the crazy idea that i would make most of the gifts I was going to offer at Christmas this year. I didn’t get an early start, about mid November I think and today the first piece shipped, the other four should ship tomorrow, I’ve been able to deliver some in person and have a few more to deliver.

I made simple things since I’m no artisan. I made necklaces for the ladies in the office and some things for my brothers and sisters and special people in my life. While working on the necklaces I had a flasback to 1994 when my wife was t’boned in a car wreck in Blacksburg, a small enough town that one of the neighbors who saw it called the house. I was mowing the yard, a six hour process back then when Erin brought out the phone to me. The message was simple “come to this intersection, she’s hurt, leave the girls with me” I remember bundling up Erin and Maggie in their car seats, putting on the emergency flashers and zipping down the hill and over to the scene. There were so many cars blocking the street I drove up on the sidewalk which either Erin or Maggie made a comment about. At the scene i walked them to the neighbor who would look after them while i looked after Linda. When we walked by, the girls looked, saw her bent over the steering wheel and asked “why is mommy sleeping?” I don’t remember answering, just the look on Erin’s face staring at her mom in a crumpled car. I told them I’d take care of mom, they should be good for the neighbor, who walked them to her home. I walked to the car as the rescue squad was getting ready to extract Linda. The door post had been driven deeply into the side of the drivers seat, and thus into Linda, breaking ribs, they removed what was left of the door and i climbed in while they were planning their next demolition action. The plan was to lift her out through the windshield and were preparing to break it in on her when i pointed out it was held in with a zipper gasket that they could pull, and remove the windshield with no risk of flying glass. It worked and they extracted her. At the hospital the broken rib punctured her lung, I saw it happen, all the color drained from her as her lung collapsed. The doctor inserted a tube and reinflated her lung and she was stable for the night.

I picked up the girls from the neighbors, thanked them, updated them and took the girls home explaining that mommy would be in the hospital for a while but that we could go visit.

The next day the porch was the scene of a non stop parade of flowers, hot dishes, desserts and soups. The church and school had heard and were supporting us in full force. All the strangers coming and going seemed to make Erin and Maggie uncomfortable, they stopped talking. I thought I needed to spend a lot of time with them to be sure they were ok. They had been making bead jewelry with small plastic beads and twine and when I asked what we could give to all the people bringing flowers and food, they suggested bead necklaces.

We spent the next day at seeds of light. It turned out to be a real treat for them, buying whatever glass, stone or metal beads they wanted. Once home, they’d organize their beads in trays and sit together on the floor, in the sun, trading beads with each other until they were satisfied they both had what they wanted, then they both said “deal done” and that was that.

I lay on the floor with them squinting to see the small beads and to string them on in a pattern or a mono-color necklace while the three of us discussed the accident, moms recovery, how we would have to convert the living room into a bedroom for mom’s hospital bed and they seemed fine with all that, very chatty, it all felt normal. We began discussing the designs of the necklaces. Maggie tried to match something the person had worn, Erin was starting that way, but freestyling when needed.

We beaded for about a week, taking breaks to go to the hospital or to deliver necklaces, Linda came home to the hospital bed in the living room and things worked their way back to normal.

I think about all this when I started making necklaces for the women I work with. I remembered how I had used beading to spend time with my daughters and be sure they were not afraid of the accident. Looking back, as scary as it was, as hard as it was to have Linda recovering in the living room, I loved those days laying on the floor with Erin and Maggie. Making small talk, having them teach me the knots, color patterns, trading, but mostly being with them while we worked.

This year as I was beading, I was able to think about who I was making for, what they might like, how to express their persona and role through the designs. Each necklace took about a night to make, the boxes took another few nights, but I enjoyed thinking about them. Their laughs, their interests, their ways of enlivening the office. I don’t know if I really was able to capture a bit of their persona in what I made, but the act of making…selecting…designing…fabricating connected me to them and I think its how gifting should work for me. I need to be thinking hard about a person, and make instead of buy.

When i gave these presents, they were warmly received. I had been showing samples around earlier to get their input into clasps, colors, designs, they were surprised that I had been showing them their gifts at various stages of development…but graciously accepted them anyway.

I made a gift for my sisters and brother too, something to symbolize the six of us children all together. Each different, distinct, but unified by family. I’m not sure how these will be received, but enjoyed remembering Terri’s record collection …(some guy Zally?) and Barbs work with the recycling center in high school…what was that fellows name?….and Lori’s 12 string guitar playing, I miss that still, and Ginny’s energy which got her a protective football helmet to wear until her nose healed. I remember my brother and I playing catch or running bases, and remember I haven’t been much of a brother to him. I hope this major award thats on its way to Lori’s for him will make up for some of what i did and didn’t do for him/to him.

I’m making more gifts for Erin and Maggie and other people close to me. I’ve made cards finally and hope to have those in the mail soon.

Whether card, gift, or box i think the best part is the memories that the person brings back when you make something for them.

I’ll be away from family this Christmas, am looking forward to making a Christmas here in Texas, but I’ll be thinking of you all. Missing my daughters, brother and sisters, friends in Fargo and Blacksburg, but I’ve visited their memories through this process, and it makes me feel less alone as we approach the longest night of the year.

I hope you are with friends, family and those you love this holiday season. If you can’t be with them, think of them, remember them, maybe even facebook them. The holidays are a season of community I think, and though mine is spread across a few time zones and a continent, I feel close to them all, shed blood for them all (never look up when cutting out cards!) and tried to make a part of me that won’t be too hideous to wear or have on display….I’m not sure about that part, I’ll have to wait for the reviews.

Happy Holidays to you all! Travel Safely, Be good to each other.