This laurel, let this holly stand:
We live within the stranger's land,
And strangely falls our Christmas-eve.
And silent under other snows:
There in due time the woodbine blows,
The violet comes, but we are gone.
The genial hour with mask and mime;
For change of place, like growth of time,
Has broke the bond of dying use.
By which our lives are chiefly proved,
A little spare the night I loved,
And hold it solemn to the past.
It wasn't until I escaped the house late this afternoon and strolled towards the elementary school across the street that I finally felt a sense of peace settle over me.
Grey light (there had been just a few breaks of sunshine throughout the day) erased the line between afternoon and dusk. The rain which had come down intermittently throughout the day made the ground soft under my feet. At the end of the school driveway, several people (I couldn't distinguish teenager from adult) tossed a ball back and forth between them.
As evening came on swiftly, I found myself almost alone on the path, yet more at home than I would have been in a house full of people.
Christmas is tough, harder this year than in many past, and there have been numerous challenging ones. For years, after the death of my brother and then, in swift succession, my mom, it was almost impossible to rejoice.
The birth of my two children allowed space in which to construct a few family traditions - the creche, the simple ornaments my mother had lovingly collected, the huge tree which sat in our brownstone music room replaced by a less spacious, ambitious pine.
But a marriage also provides a ready-made family. In the years since the kid's dad and I separated, we have maintained a husk of those traditions - but what we have lost, perhaps what we never had, is the joint effort, the spiritual anchor, that binds a family celebration together.
The holiday also raises a host of discomfiting questions - why don't we fit in anywhere? Who are our friends? Where is our "tribe"? If I was less of a loner..if I had joined the HSA...if I was a more conventional Christian, if I volunteered more...
I want my little family to be desired, to be desirable - never an object of someone's second thought. At the same time, I know that there are many like us who, for whatever reason, whether it's a lack of local family, divorce, or unconventional lifestyles, don't fit the boxes.
I have a feeling that my son will find his tribe. There is a cost for patrolling the periphery, as an old friend who used to work at the Inquirer used to call it - and I often don't think it's worth the cost.
At the same time, walking by the cars lined up in the subdivision a few blocks away, the aroma of Christmas dinners perfuming the damp air, lights twinkling in the fast-growing darkness of this winter season, after a challenging day in which we skated on thin ice, an afternoon which could have been a catastrophe...I reclaimed the mantle of the solitary observer stalking the habitat of those who find solace in each other's company.
Equivocal comfort indeed. But for tonight, it would probably have to do.