a journal of...

A journal among friends...
art, words, home, people and places

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Gifts of the Season

These days pass by so quickly, bearing gifts we might barely notice to appreciate.

I don't mean the shiny ribboned gifts from family and friends, with Happy Holidays! and Love from us all! which make us smile as they accumulate, nudging us further into an already over-bright season, but the intangibles...like today, a suddenly warm, breezy day, cloud-covered and promising rain, good for holing up inside after a busy holiday; or the quiet of the streets on a morning walk, everyone else still asleep or still away.  Leaves rattle across my path, uncovering richly ored stones among the gray driveway gravel right beneath my feet. The holiday crush passed, I look forward to spending a whole afternoon absorbing a good book sent by a friend, just the right one.

books for a quiet day
There are affectionate notes in the mailbox, reminding us how close even far-flung friendships seem; a telephone call which begins, even as you start to say the same words yourself, "I've been thinking of you and wanting to call..."  Another ends with a gentle urgency, "Let's keep in touch..."  My sister rings early one morning.  "I woke up and just wanted to say hello." My children call from their northern holiday with in-laws and pass the phone around the room to pull me into their chatter. This year, my aunt, 97 and challenged by dimming sight, says she's happier making phone calls than sending cards anyway because "people seem to appreciate a conversation more."  I know what she means...I'm still making a few cards to send and though they are each a personal vision, the words inside don't quite convey what I'd like to confide, and certainly they can't record what that one fondly-thought-of recipient responds.

wishes from friends
I  have always loved the tradition of sending holiday cards, the formality of wishes written between pages of images we hope will convey the hopeful affection we feel.  But it isn't so much the cards themselves as the message they signify: that along the way we have enfolded into our lives people with whom we share part of our souls and are grateful no matter how long it has been since we've shared a life.  Good friends, it seems, brook no distance in time or space.  Once, after 40 years, a college housemate called me out of the blue and talked as if she'd just gone off for the weekend and come back again. Because of her, there are nine of us in that recovered loop.  It's 50 years now since we graduated, and notes and e-letters come more often, but our past is still part of the present. What were we doing all that time apart?  Living our lives, so different and differently, in such different worlds. Yet it hardly took a weekend to catch up.

The same is true of friends from places I'd once lived within their reach.  When we talk or write, we trade information about daily life, children, books we've read (or written), travels, market trips, old times, new times, struggles and triumphs as if they still lived next door.  As if it hadn't been a year since the last time we heard from one another. When such connections break, they leave an absence felt as strongly as the continued presence.

Still, friends appear in the guise of strangers.  On my trip to visit my aunts and uncle last week, I'd been sitting a few minutes in front of the hearth at the lodge where we were staying, when the woman across the side table and I began a chat--the sort that strangers do all the time:  "Isn't this a wonderful fire; nice to have a few minutes of quiet; what brings you here; where are you from..."  In no time, though, I seemed to know a lot about her; she seemed in fact, a younger version of (this sounds bordering on the solipsistic, I'm afraid, but forgive me) myself.  I remembered life at that age, the worries and gleanings and pride that it brings. We had, it turned out, a lot in common in that generation-shifting way.  We left each having learned something only our chance meeting would have allowed.  "Oh, can we stay in touch?" she asked, as I wrote down the link to this blog.

Nearby, at home, abiding friendship lies at the door.  Coming back from my long, tiring trip, I find a text from a neighbor.  "We see you're back! Come for dinner."  Chanukah begins the very next day, but I know just who to call to help celebrate, and there they are bearing candles, salads and wine.

Another neighbor sends me home with a basket of treats, intuiting, I'm sure, that I haven't had time to make my own (indeed, the ones I made in haste weren't, I'm afraid, worth a holiday).  An email reaches me:  "I know it's last minute, but we would love for you to come out to the farm for Christmas brunch if you can." In the kitchen, our own or others', we assemble the secrets of holidays past and present, and at tables rich with food, conversation, and sentiment we too often take for granted, such gifts ripen and smooth as we imbibe.

pairs of pears
Can we say, on ordinary days in March or August, how much they mean to us?  Of course we can. And sometimes (maybe not as often as we think of it) do.  But there is something about the season, perhaps winter coming on, perhaps the year ending and curling toward a new one, that brings us up short, and reminds us to gather our friendships close and hold on.  This year, given the dysfunctional world, they seem more important than ever.

The other day I dropped in on my niece and her family, bringing a package for their family celebration. Two of my favorite gifts awaited me there, though I didn't know it yet.  One child, while I was busy talking, ran up to his room and wrapped a small present for me...a wrist band he'd gotten from a run at school...and presented it to me with a huge smile.  His older sister came along just after:  "This is my present," she said, and hugged me tightly.  I am glad that they, too, young as they are, know how to hold on.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, this is wonderful - the warm feelings evoked are being treasured for the memories they brought to light just now. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!