As I packed away all the Christmas decorations this weekend I thought again how strange it felt to say goodbye to all of them, put them in boxes, stack them in storage, and not give them another thought for at least eleven months…and then, to climb into the storage closet, hit your head, swear under (or over) your breath, and drag out dusty boxes of well-loved plastic and ribbons to take them out again with the kind of anticipation normally reserved for things shiny and new.
You’ve seen everything in the boxes before, of course, but somehow it all seems new again. Maybe this phenomenon is a function of a changing context, because a decoration could even be hanging on the same hook as it did last year but something seems different.
And, it is.
The truth is that same wreath or star or ornament that hung in the house last year is decorating a life that has not stayed the same as it was. The decoration has been absent for a whole year…but the lives it adorns have been lived…and changed along the way.
As Sammy (age 12) and I were taking the Christmas tree decorations down the other night I wondered aloud: “Do you ever think about how life might be different next year, the next time we see these ornaments?”
He looked at me funny.
“I mean,” I said, “do you ever wonder how our life might change, how things might be different the very next time we take out this same ornament and hang it on our tree next year?”
“Uhhhh, no,” he said, with that tone of voice that also communicated: “I am trying to be respectful here, but I think you’re nuts.”
I thought about trying to say more.
I thought about what words I could find to remind my twelve year old son of some of the harder chapters of life, chapters he’s already experienced long before he should ever have had to.
But it didn’t seem right to go deeper on the subject.
After all, having lived through the past few years, I share Sam’s general dis-ease over the exercise of imagining how life might possibly change. Because we know it can change, and that change can hurt much more than you ever dared to consider. And, I would like to here say, imagining the pain of life is especially troublesome while sitting in the glow of the twinkling Christmas tree lights.
It didn’t seem right to delve deeper; it was easier to just hum along with the last playing of the Christmas CDs a little louder and continue exclaiming over the ornaments, one by one, as they went into their boxes for a long year in storage. No need to talk about what might change or how we think it will. Better to just hang on to the familiar and tell ourselves that the ornaments we put away this year will be the very same ornaments we pull out next year, and that somehow, no matter what changes lie ahead for us, the love and warmth we feel in this very moment will still be there the next time they come out.
It’s easier to do that, especially when you’re talking about change and pain and fear with your twelve year old.
But I confess…I wondered.