I opened a box of ornaments and saw a handful of baubles which I could not remember using in my house. I recall buying them, but where did I use them? Then I remembered…
The same thing happened with a string of lights. Our outdoor lights are strings of 200 LED little lights. Why did I have these strings of 60? Then I remembered…
Lastly, I found the tree. I gave my mother a shopping list and had this artificial tree ready and waiting. It was the tree I set up, with the lights and the ornaments and all this wool finger garland in my son’s hospital room.
It was as if I looked up just as the heavy drapes pulled back from the inside. Looking through the window into the candlelight I saw myself, living in a hospital with my son who was sometimes stable, sometimes not, in the faraway land surrounded by water called San Francisco. I slept outside the hospital at a beautiful place called Family House which exists to support people like us, people like we were, the people in the window, the woman decorating the hospital room because by December 22nd it is not clear where she will celebrate Christmas.
The more illuminating moment arrives when studying the woman in the window I think of how different my life is from hers. That was a woman of a different age, a woman who could pack a suitcase in less than five minutes, a woman who knew silence in her life. I have little silence in my life with four children at home, including that particular son running around with his short toddler legs after his siblings. And I fumble when I pack because I am out of practice.
How faraway the past looks when it becomes the past.
How strange Scrooge must have felt looking through the window at old Fezziwig’s wondering who that man was, the man cheerful and in love. We learned to ignore the vestiges of the life we once lived. We learned to live in the present, hoping not to be bothered by the past.
But the past comes up. It comes up in the way our lives are lacking now. It comes up in the way our lives are fuller now. Whether we feel the grief that comes with something lost that cannot be recovered, or the relief of a period of suffering ending and health returning, the “Ghost of Christmases Past” haunts us and calls for us to pause, reflect, and allow our past to be part of our present and influence our future.
The Catholic Church calls this an examination of conscience.
A thousand moments can pass us by. Yet somehow we are meant to hold them in our hearts, turn them over, and then set them aside until it is time to look at them again.
The sensory experience of Christmas is a powerful trigger. I lit candles and Christmas lights as soon as we were home. And we were home. The quiet of Christmas had already settled into the hospital hallways as the staff was reduced to accommodate vacations. Yet our room was in a flurry as I packed up to rush home and celebrate Christmas where we belonged, all of us, son included.
Now this moment of opening a box of ornaments is the Ghost taking me back, asking me, “do you remember?”
It permits me to draw my own conclusions.
The invitation will not happen in one night, but I will not let it pass me by.
Previously published in the Weekly Column “Here’s to the Good Life” in the Hughson
Chronicle & Denair Dispatch. Also previously published at kathrynannecasey.com.