Friday, December 7, 2012

I was a 12-year-old, Tiny Tim, method actor.

 I grew up in the Alameda neighborhood, for almost ten years up on Mason in a cozy little rental just spitting distance from a mansion owned by one of the Blazers and then four more down by the elementary school. There were always a handful of holiday parties to attend: the big, family-friendly party at my dad's office, and then a couple in the neighborhood and one or two thrown by family friends. You know the type. Big, frosted, sugar cookies, pigs in a blanket, punch, hot buttered rum for the adults and hot cocoa for the kids. Adults upstairs mingling and kids in the basement with a ping-pong table or an old TV with a Nintendo or "Fern Gully" playing on VHS. I had a hard time relating to party kids I didn't already know and was one of the pesky ones wanting to listen in on grown-up conversations with a handful of olived fingertips. My hands stayed tiny and child-like and I find I still enjoy olived fingers when taking part in conversations about the working environment of corporate middle management or what to do when waste disposal claims your recycling isn't sorted properly when it very well is. I mean, really, do they want you to tie a bow around it? 

I miss neighborhood Christmas parties with their holiday party food and big punchbowls. I miss wearing a big sweater and crowding into the warm home of another family you know to catch up with people you don't see much and stave off the chilly air for the evening. I guess some friends of ours throw this annual holiday thing but I have been too sick for us to go the last two years because both events fell just weeks after I had surgery. In past years it's had a bit of that tinny irony that plagues my generation and makes some of us far too amused with themselves for wearing the ugliest holiday sweater. Maybe I am a wet blanket or a cynic, but I can't understand the appeal of celebrating irony, cheekiness, or other forms of emotional insincerity when the weather outside is so shitty and the days are so short. I think I'd rather dork it up and share warmth with my loved ones and feel a little wholesome for a minute. My youth was perplexing but Christmas was always about giving and spreading those magic feelings of well-wishes and kindness. I didn't realize it then, but I had Christmas like in children's books and family Christmas movies. I figured back then that was everyone's experience but later realized a lot of people barely touch Christmas. Friends who didn't grow up with their houses decorated inside and out like a Department 56 light-up building walk in to my moms' place now and are surprised at the amount Mom decorates and that it is only a quarter of the holiday magic she used to infuse into our domicile. The North Pole Village at Meier & Frank with the ride-on-train, Christmas tree forest and Santa himself set on a giant throne to speak about one's Christmas wishes was the only thing that beat my house. 
For a while in my adolescence and young adulthood I tried and partway succeeded in following God's word in some Christian tradition and found myself thinking more and more about being a good citizen and how that would spread His love. I was terrible at it by my own estimation but was the only message I pulled out of the Bible that made any sense. Christmas was a struggle for me. I was afraid all I had cared about during the holiday season was presents and the trappings of festive secular service and was sure I had been missing something by not including religious observance. I knew all about druidic festivals and celebrations being co-opted by Christians attempting to convert the locals and that Jesus wasn't born in December but I could have sworn I was doing it wrong anyway. I was struggling in some familial relationships and all the good I felt during those early holiday seasons echoed dully in my memory and felt frivolous. I must have read the Bible five or six times through back then trying to figure out what I was supposed to do to be doing life right and coming up with "only love God and all other people" and "if these stories aren't illustrative parables set in a time before refrigeration, antibiotics and condoms, this book makes absolutely no sense in the contemporary context." Trying to be a good Christian confused me and loaded me with so much guilt it ruined my ability to enjoy Christmas. Being emotionally adrift from my family, no matter the reason, took away the glow of tradition and made it just another sleety day in the PNW where I felt woefully inadequate.

Christianity at 100% acceptance rate eludes me and I swim about in a grey area where all the important things from studying the faith and participating in Christian communities stuck but the fantastical deity storyline just won't stick. But Christmas is back. Everything the holiday is supposed to be rings truer in my head than it ever did. My Christian years cemented the humanitarian influence of my hippie-ish parents who were involved in "Beyond War" when I was just a little bug. The effort my parents put in to making Christmas magical well past our Santa years is one of the crazy, wonderful things I love about my family. Making up goofy dances for- and singing along to Mom's cheesier holiday song selections with my brothers are some of the moments of pure, joyful memories of my childhood. Sunday service at the Bridge made Christmas my day of thanks more so than the intended holiday in autumn. I love Christmas. It is Love and thankfulness for the ability to give and receive within our community. It is gathering with others to be a fire against the cold night and making magic by suspending belief in such for the sake of the kids only to trick ourselves into feeling it, too.  It is olived fingers and a kitchen decorated to resemble a gingerbread house and Pennsylvania Dutch egg nog and Mom scolding us for eating a ton of clam dip right before dinner. It is being a blessing to others because you, yourself have been blessed.

I have to admit to an elevated sense of sentimentality this year. There is a good chance I will be having my bone marrow transplant soon and all the way up in Seattle. I have faith that the doctors there will get me through the transplant process as safely as possible and have the passion and expertise to deal with complications resourcefully as soon as they arise. Still, a little voice inside of me that sounds a lot like I do at my most coldly pragmatic says there is still a chance I might not make it and this is it for Christmas. We have been a bit scattered and unorganized the last few years but the idea made me panic and I just about begged people who probably didn't need begging to spend the weekend up at Mom's to celebrate. As much of my immediate family as is on the continent will be there this year, per my adamant request and their shared desire to celebrate together. We have the sole youngster of his generation in our family going to be in attendance and starting to build on his own young understanding of the season. No one is missing out because of work or other plans, and I may even receive my coveted international call from my dad and step-mom. We are all going to be together and it is going to be magic.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not big on Christmas myself, but for me it's precisely because it's associated with too much religious/family stuff. I appreciate your willingness to walk a nuanced path on the matter and talk about it. I'm still in the process of separating the good from the bad in my religious upbringing as well, so it's nice to see I'm not the only one dealing with this stuff. I hope your Christmas is very merry :).