Long Days and Short Years

just trying to pay attention so I don't miss my life


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When Christmas Hurts

I began this poem in the margins of my church bulletin last Sunday.  Our prayer request time had been (not unusually) raw and real, with brave people daring to admit that they weren’t doing “fine, thank you.”  It’s amazing how this honesty spreads across the sanctuary.  After we cried together, prayed together, and stood together to sing; something changed.  I don’t know how to describe it exactly, but the closest I can come is to say that Joy seeped in through our cracked walls.

*

As words came, so did tears.

Tears like rivers, slowly cutting through bedrock.

Rivers carving out channels where there weren’t channels before.

And

we were swept downstream

together.

*

There in a jumbled heap

we looked at one another again, no,

we looked for the first time that morning

and saw the eyes of grown-ups

who were barely hanging on.

*

What do you do,

we whispered to someone listening,

when you are counting for Christmas to be over?

What if the missing is just too much

and each twinkling light stings?

What do you do if this was not the plan?

*

Tissue boxes arrived,

we passed them around,

but still we sat, breathing together.

Now we were waiting,

hands resting on the backs of our neighbors,

we were waiting for hope to come.

*

Hope does not come with happiness.

We knew it.  Happiness is too thin.

Hope needs friction, not fa la la la la.

Tensile strength, not tinsel.

We needed a Christmas strong enough

to bear this sorrow.

*

And it was given.

It was given the moment we stopped grasping, and

with hands on backs and true words spoken aloud,

we received it.

We were surprised.

The hope came through joy.

*

We stood to sing.

Joy to the world.

Joy to the messed up real world.

Joy, which is not candy,

but medicine.

*

*

I am indebted to the author and anti-sex-trafficking advocate Christine Caine for this metaphor: “Joy is not ‘imitation happiness’.  If happiness is like candy, then Joy is medicine.”  I have been thinking about this phrase since I read it in her painful and hopeful book, Undaunted, and I am grateful for her hard-won wisdom.

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Why Winter is Worth It

I have been around my Los Angeles-born husband long enough to know how the conversation will go.

*****

Person (meeting my husband for the first time):  Where are you from?

Husband:  Well, I’m originally from Los Angeles, but I’ve lived in Pittsburgh for ten years now.

Person (inevitably shocked):  Wow.  Why in the world did you move here?

*****

As the conversation continues my husband will explain what brought him here (a professional fellowship) and why he decided to stay (a variety of reasons related to work, church, cost of living, and a really attractive wife).  But I never get the sense that he convinces them, especially if the conversation happens to take place, say, in early March.  “But… but… but…” they protest, always with different phrases, but 90% of their arguments boil down to the same two grievances.

Winter.  And clouds.

“Why would you move here from there?” (said in the same tone that you would use to ask someone why they decided to rent a U-haul in Heaven in order to descend to Hades) really means “Why would you move from warm to cold?  Why would you move from sunny to cloudy?  Why would you choose to endure winter if you didn’t have to?”

There are so many answers to these questions.  My husband and I (believe it or not) love living in Pittsburgh.  The low cost of living has allowed us freedoms unheard of in other urban areas, we are surrounded by people who inspire us, and my husband can wear his favorite flannel shirts much more often.  But there are two other reasons worth noting.

Winter.   And clouds.

There seems to be a rumor that happiness is composed of warmth and sunshine.  You can take this literally or metaphorically–given a choice wouldn’t most of us choose an easy, problem-free existence?  Who wouldn’t want to just lie around on a warm beach, and hire someone else to deal with our finances, responsibilities and hardships?  Who wouldn’t want (and this is a caricature of LA) 80 degrees and sunny, 350 days a year?

Me.  I wouldn’t want it.  And here is why. Pittsburghers are really, really happy in April.  Go to a park on the first warm weekend and watch the people walking their dogs.  Look at the weary parents smile as their children climb the playgrounds.  Heck, go downtown at lunchtime and watch people in suits fight (very politely) for the sunny park benches.  There is a lightness around here in the spring, a sense of we-survived-another-one.  There is a savoring, a satisfaction, even some pride.  And there is annual amazement (and not just from the children) as the crocuses peek through the snow and the trees begin to show the faintest hint of green buds.

Look at that.  The trees weren’t dead after all.  Spring has come again.

*****

I’m becoming more and more convinced that seasons, real or metaphorical, bring substance and depth to our lives.  The ability to appreciate the sunshine or be grateful for rest are gifts in themselves.  People in seasonal climates certainly don’t have a corner on this (and really, there are seasons everywhere, even in Southern California), but every year we have the tangible reminder that winter can be worth it.

Worth it.  Absolutely.  Because every single winter is followed by a brand-new spring.