One memorable early December some startled neighbors who were out walking by our home when we were, asked why we were carrying a fully-decorated Christmas tree up our steep uphill street in Sausalito, towards our home. Upon hearing our story, Martin, Jim, Ingrid, Julia and Jacob, joined us, carefully picking up the tree ornaments that fell off our tree, a “fallen angel” one of the three wise man and blue bird ornaments along the way.
The back story began the previous evening when walking along the Sausalito waterfront with my friends visiting from Dublin and Austin. Looking over across Richardson Bay in Sausalito we saw the light shining on top of the hill on Angel Island. I told them what a local had told me, that a Sausalitan paid for the light each Christmas in memory of her spouse, a story I later learned was not true. That sparked a conversation about our loved ones, now gone, that we’d honor with a Christmas light.
In that spirit, the next morning we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to buy a Christmas tree from three resourceful, recovering folks at Delancey Street. Jim spoke of his best friend, killed by a drunk driver in Austin, three weeks after returning from Iraq. Ingrid, whose mother had disappeared when she was ten, described how her deceased, Iranian stepmother made them a Swedish meal each Christmas because that was a family tradition that Ingrid shared with her father. My fiancé, who was accidentally killed in Bogota several years ago, used to gather his friends to lead us in singing carols on Christmas Eve. While my friends knew each other rather well, telling these specific stories was a way of bearing comforting witness for each other. Back home I retrieved my collection of ornaments from the attic. We decided to be top-of-Angel Island-lights for each other. As each of us placed an ornament on my tree, we took turns recalling a time when we felt honored or comforted by another of us. Soon the blue spruce tree was graced with ornaments that held more personal meaning for us.
We were just about to start making dinner when my neighbor, Hans, from up the hill called to invite us to join him for homemade, gingered yam soup. For the ten years I’ve known them, his wife made that soup, a family tradition, and invited me, and three others in Sausalito up for early holiday supper. They always had a Christmas tree in the front window. His wife, Velda, had passed away earlier that year. Earlier, I’d noticed that he’d not gotten a tree that year. And their children didn’t visit much.
You probably guessed where this story is heading. I wish I could say it was my idea, but it was my friend Jim’s and we all agreed. We pulled some West Marin cheeses out of my refrigerator and put them in a carrying bag along with sourdough bread, and two bottles of Napa wine. We unplugged the tree lights, lifted up the tree and headed out the door and up the street to Hans’ home. Thank goodness those other neighbors joined in to help us hold everything because we would probably have lost more ornaments if they hadn’t. And, hearing our somewhat jumbled account of creating an “Angel-Island-light-for-each other” tradition they may not have understood it all yet they certainly felt the spirit. And thank goodness, too, that most of them could hold a tune, as I cannot, so the “Oh Christmas Tree” carol we started singing as we got to Han’s front door actually sounded rather well.
By then it seemed natural that we were meant to craft our own collective Christmas story by shining an Angel-Island light on others who were honoring those they loved and lost in the last few years, bearing witness with them in the richness of love celebrated together. I doubt that this story could have unfolded in this way without each of us taking a leap of faith along the way to not turn it trivial but to keep a connective thread to our conversation.
It is popular, these days, for tech pundits tout the power of Big Data and analytics to generate meaningful insights in real time, and I agree. Yet, let’s not squash the moments to make meaning, in real time, in person, together too. Whatever is happening with you this holiday, there may be an apparently unexpected way you can collect others to give a top-of Angel Island light to someone who has lost a loved one, and bring a smile to their face as you encourage them to share a joyous remembrance with you. I will always remember this Christmas with a smile. This holiday why not finally turn the page of your life to an adventure story you are truly meant to live? Here are some related sayings that came to my mind:
“Christmas, my child, is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give, it’s Christmas”
~ Dale Evans Rogers
“Christmas is most truly Christmas when we celebrate it by giving the light of love to those who need it most.” ~ Ruth Carter Stapleton
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp” ~ Anne Lamott
“We are stained-glass windows, sparkling when sun’s out, yet as darkness sets in, beauty is revealed only if there’s light within ~ Edna Ferber
“Our deeds determine us, as much as we determine our deeds” ~ Adam Bede
“I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year” ~ Charles Dickens
“You can give without loving; but you cannot love without giving” ~ Amy Carmichael
“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end” ~ Scott Adams
“Life is enriched by difficulty . . .Love is made more acute when it requires exertion”
~ Andrew Solomon
“We relate more to your struggles than your accomplishments. Transparency is strength not weakness”
~ Brene Brown
“It is easier to act our way into a more positive feeling than to feel our way into a positive way of acting ~ me
Make your holiday more meaningful and memorable with others by co-creating your own, distinctive tradition that enables you to deepen friendships and demonstrate a willingness to bear witness to the pains and the joys you have experienced over the past year.
Thank you for this, Kare. Yes, people relate more to our struggles than to our accomplishments. On FaceBook, I posted a note about being blue because it was the anniversary of my mother’s death. Many people reached out. One of the most touching notes was from a high school friend, in the class behind me, who told me of her own poignant holiday story. The spirit of Christmas is not to be merry. It is to be kind.