Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Christmas Letter

The family liked to think itself nomadic, and not only because it implied a certain distinction from permanence and things with roots, but because it rang of something ancient: old and sincere madness. "Nomadic" conjured images of hunters following herds of food, letting their livelihood lead them in a wild way, and even though the herds for this family might be small huddles of private colleges in the Northwest city of Seattle or a host of coffee houses pretentiously adorned with names such as "Vivace" or "Caffe Ladro" or "Appassionato," the family entertained this likeness. This is why the Father said, "We will move farther North and farther West," and this is why the family said, "Yes. We will go with you." And for two years, they lived, clan-like, at the edges of lakes and between mountains. They loved each other - the Father and the Mother and children: the Oldest, the Daughter, and the Youngest - and they loved their massive God, whom they found in renovated warehouses, in schools, in coffee houses, in used books.

But one year, everything changed - as everything usually does - not their love, but their possibilities. They moved apart from each other, each going his or her own way with only words to hold them together, so they chose their words carefully. They tried to create something pithy, like taking all the grapes in a vineyard to make a single bottle of pinot noir or, perhaps, more like the way Conan O'Brien takes national crises and makes a one-liner.

The Oldest moved upward in the ranks of his employer, working stolidly toward success, which might be called "the apex of the nearest radio tower." He filled data sheets, presented data sheets, traveled to be with friends (his great passion) and to escape data sheets. He wore half-zip wool sweaters, worked out of coffee shops, got his exercise playing Frisbee in city parks. He served and would soon lead in his church. When he spoke of himself, he used the words "full-fledged" and "stereotype." But he said these words with a certain measure of self-satisfaction, knowing he was born full-fledged and knowing everyone is a stereotype of themselves.
"All this to say," he said, "things are busy, but full and good." And this was his motto, his driving principle, the mantra of positivism he embodied.

The Daughter finished her schooling and decided to use her new bachelor's degree to work multiple hourly wage jobs across the country from her clan. She made an effort for romanticism (though she knew no such thing existed) by traveling to another water - the cold gray of the Atlantic - and the paradoxical state of Rhode Island. It was here she relearned how to read with means but no end, how to write for herself rather than for professors, how to live through soup cans and punch cards. She used the recycled words "Is it enough?" and "How soon is now?" In Rhode Island, she found the answers were, "Yes," and "Morrissey."

The Youngest was cherished by all because of his youth, which to the rest of the family would be eternal despite his towering height and wide shoulders and increasingly shadowed chin, and because he knew the hidden insufficiencies of words, so he spoke little, letting his louder siblings create the ruckus while he smiled his silent smile. He finished high school in this year of change and began college. Entertaining ideas of working in white laboratories and creating new, unseen, unimagined things, he studied biology and chemistry, and he studied the mechanics of Nerf guns and the beautiful ways in which foam darts weighted with electrical tape could arc through the winter air toward someone else's head. He used the words "collegiate freedom," laughingly, and "well on my way."

But it was the Mother and Father who changed the most, though their children had thought otherwise. It was the Mother who finally said, "This is home," a new appellation for the Northwest, and all the blue mountains covered in snow breathed a sigh of relief at her acceptance. She taught children who needed her, gave them a love not many can or will give, and because of this, she learned about hope, she felt her age, she could look to the future and say with her beautiful smile, "We'll see!"

The Father was employed by the church but worked for the people, in the way that a lighthouse never serves itself but serves the ships at sea. So, it was the Father who used the words "empty nesting," but he meant and later said, "roomier," because he knew there was little difference but perspective between emptiness and space, space to be filled by resurrected sense of adventure, conversation, prayer - unceasing prayer - and grace, which was his favorite.

In this way, the family ended a year of change, looking forward to another year (meaning more possibility), never losing sight of their herds, their nomadic lives.

1 comment:

  1. This is absolutely beautful Jillian! And adds new perspective on you.