If the best parts of Christmas lasted all year long, we would always say nice things to the weary clerks at department stores instead of just on Christmas Eve.
We would read poetry to each other at the dinner table year-round, and sing together by candlelight in May and June and September.
If the best parts of Christmas lasted all year long, we would always be saturating our social media pages with calming seasonal poems, photos of our families and inspirational memes instead of blood-pressure-raising diatribe.
We would spend intentional time all the time with the people we love best.
We would freely give to the coatless woman at the traffic light without analyzing the state of homelessness in America.
We would smile at strangers, not just with our faces, but with the insides of our hearts.
If Christmas lasted all year long, the world would be a better place. Everybody would operate from the same intentionality.
We’d all know we were trying.
As it is, January comes. The common hold of the season gives way to separation, division, rote and routine. We’re back to debating impeachment and presidential candidates and whether, for God’s sake, climate change is real. Much of which is necessary.
All of which begs for Christmas to stay. All of which begs the question: Why not?
Just as we leave up the outdoor lights to stave off the dark of winter, can we think to leave up other parts of Christmas? Can I be more conscientious, more deliberate, more gentle in my dealings with others all the time like I am at Christmas? Can I soften the walls between me and people who aren’t like me, making eye contact, as a start, with the shivering woman on the corner? Can I promise to post more beauty than doomsday on my social media pages and keep Mary Oliver books instead of my cell phone by my dinner plate? Can I engage my children in a conversation about ways to maintain the Christmas intimacy of our relationships, which they say they want year-round, too?
The late philosopher and civil rights leader Howard Thurman speaks to this in his poem, “Now the Work of Christmas Begins,” which my family and I heard quoted at a Christmas Eve service.
“When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among the people, to make music in the heart.”
We agreed driving home from the service that such a lofty vision can sound good on paper and poem, until we are left standing alone with our brokenness, the world splintering around us and no one, it seems, knowing how to live anymore.
But then sometimes, out of nowhere, it seems, small entryways appear, like at the cancer center the day after Christmas where I go to get my blood drawn twice a week.
Every Monday and Thursday since the week before Thanksgiving, I drive to this place an hour from home where other ailing bodies go to get chemo and other serious drugs. Luckily, I’m not relegated to that camp. I don’t want to be a member of that club, not yet, not ever; although I’ve had chronic leukemia for 10 years, which I was hospitalized for a week leading into Thanksgiving, my condition has stabilized. Doctors are watching, which is why I go for lab checks, tenuous, inward, avoiding contact and camaraderie with other patients and the deep wells of their eyes.
I particularly avoid the man who shares the same appointment time as I, who stares back at me, wide-eyed, expectant, in the waiting room every time I go. I feel his pressing anxiety, his deep, labored breathing, the depth of his illness and his need, which threatens my own equilibrium.
But then at my blood check the day after Christmas, with Thurman’s Christmas Eve message fresh in my mind, I deliberately sat across from this fellow journeyman whose suffering personage reminds me too much of my own.
“Hello! How was your Christmas?” I asked. “Good,” he said, “And yours?”
Like the Grinch, I felt my heart grow, as strangers became compatriots, as two vulnerable, disparate humans thrown together by ill fate smiled and chatted and made eye contact.
His blood drawn, he stood to go, while I waited to be called.
“Have fun,” he said, gently patting my shoulder.
He chuckled then, and I did too, as we shared an inside joke, as we both understood more than anybody the irony of his comment, and I found myself looking with expectation to when next we meet again.
Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at www.debralynnhook.com; email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or join her column’s Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy.