California Christmas

I’ve had plenty of bleak and poignant Christmases in my life–it certainly is a season of expectations and wishes that are often unmet–but this one has been especially strange. Part of it is the fire, of course, and so many people feeling fragile and displaced. For those who were evacuated and have recently returned, there’s relief and quiet gratitude, rather than celebration. One friend described herself as feeling wrung out, shredded, and exhausted. Another, unmoored. Blue. Things have been sort of joyless.

Apart from fires, there is the ongoing political nightmare. It’s best not to get started on that, but it’s toxic, and it truly takes its toll. There’s also the inconvenient health issue I’ve been trying to sort out, and, as always, the fact of my daughter being so far away. I feel it intensely during the holidays. We talked to her today…that familiar voice and image on the computer screen, then five-thousand miles between us.

But the other night we had dinner with our young neighbors, and it felt a little bit like Christmas in their house. I suggested a theme of comfort food, and I made a meat loaf from a recipe I found online, called Mom’s Meatloaf…from Kansas, in the good ol’ heartland of America, that place it turns out we didn’t really know. Virginia sang us jingle bells and her two-year-old sister Etta ran around barefoot and climbed up on laps, and there was a little bit of the cheerful chaos that children bring.

The highlight of  this Christmas day was a long walk on the beach. There was good surf, so there were lots of people riding the waves and lots of people milling about on shore, and it was the closest anything has come to festive in a long time. Dogs were romping about, and we ran into friends and neighbors, and talked and hugged. We commented on the dryness of the hills and our hopes for rain, but also the blueness of the sky, and how much the kids have grown, and how lucky we are to be here.

A friend of mine said in a letter that he feels as if he is swimming in a dark place right now. He’s been here before and knows that he will in time burst out into a bright pool, but right now it’s just hard. I guess a lot of us are feeling that way. So my Christmas message to you (and to myself) is to enjoy and appreciate your loved ones…and keep picturing that bright place.

We’ll get there.

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