CW: Brief mention of suicidal ideation
Advent-soaked bones shelter my Christmas-hopeful heart.
This brain of mine turns flipbook pages, images from months one through eleven, then whispers the body. The cage leans in stark and colorless, crowds the places so tender this December.
Slouching souls hold scant expectations. Twelve days of Christmas to ease the twelve months before. What, if anything, gives? This December, especially.
God, all my flesh is gooseflesh by December.
The stuff of this threadbare year leaves me wanting, with its washed-out winter and stolen summer. A year of muttering poor prayers to myself—“I don’t want to be here. I want to go home”—to discover each already exhausted. A year thinking how little I would be missed, stacking the absences into a poem. Let me count the ways.
Fears only ever marry and multiply, hollowing hallowed days. “I’m scared,” I confess to my wife and I’m talking about my brain.
And while I’m thinking about my brain, a truck idles beside me in the half-second before crossing a busy street; its shifting through slow shivers me. If I tallied all the times I flinched this year, the number would make you flinch.
God, all my flesh is gooseflesh by December.
So I ask for little this Christmas but silent nights fading into January. What have I to give the holiday but my lip service; yet in my lip service, revelations sneak through.
I gather the saddest music I know for a holiday playlist, a tone poem, a liturgy really; standing in the chancel, surrounded by the sounds, my words form theories—every Tom Waits song is an Advent song or a Christmas song. Maybe both.
Reading a few pages of Dickens each night as my son chases sleep, I worry over the end to a Christmas carol I already know. Surely the last page reads differently this year. I fear waking next door to Scrooge on Christmas morning, only to find the gyring ghosts muted, but no true change, nothing in the way of transformation.
Christmas tries to break free, and I resist, protect, make myself small and self-warming.
Still Dickens shakes something loose when Jacob Marley, dead some seven years, paints his bleak portrait and I notice myself like a lonely dot within the frame.
“At this time of the rolling year ... I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode!”
So I lift my eyes, at least part way. And my feet fit within the steps of men and women seeking their great North Star, scared shitless, wise only in hindsight.
I see not one star over my private Bethlehem, but many, with different-numbered points.
Venturing into the night, we pass a house where my son pronounces patterns in Christmas lights—yellow-green-green-red—with an intensity usually reserved for fingers and prayer beads. Upon his second pass—yellow-green-green-red—every glow seems to deepen, his chilled breath making the invisible visible two ways.
Without him on another night, I step into the field we usually save for star-gazing, colder and more vast at the center than its edges. Wind ripples through the night’s brief caesura. I smell snow, a week or two off. Close enough.
Staring in his way, I notice the stars my boy calls “fainted.” And I remember that, no matter how blurry or dim over the Midwest, some lights never go out.
Later still and scrolling, two thousand Canadians huddle close, light and lift their candles, and sing “From now on / our troubles will be miles away.” My eyes make out star shapes.
Some stars shine in daylight, the way the moon hangs over a baby blue afternoon.
Most days, I still think our Advents end in one eternal Christmas. And all gooseflesh shall see it together.
One Sunday morning, near 10:15, we sing, “Chains shall he break / for the slave is our brother” and the notes catch in my throat and the hewn wood star above the sanctuary’s stage starts to gleam.
So often I preach against false choices yet leave myself the same. If one body may house two emotions, why not two seasons? I am a Tom Waits song, finally and for the first time. The woozy lounge piano of Advent; the melodic lilt of Christmas. The poetry of whiskey and dirty bookstores for Advent; the lyric about a man raising someone else’s child proclaiming Christmas. All this, and more, tucked within me somewhere.
Most days, I still think our Advents end in one eternal Christmas. And all gooseflesh shall see it together. Until then, two seasons take up the space in me—sad for Advent, scared but silently wishing for Christmas.
Somewhere, a saxophone player soaks up Coltrane, then writes his own melodies. A painter chews the leaves of Monet flowers, then paints the garden of her mind. And like them, I honor both seasons—with their waiting and wishing, swearing and singing—by letting them be themselves, then imagining what may come next.
Let your bones and the heart do what they will, my loves. Just lift your eyes long enough to see all the strange stars lining your way.