Posts tagged: holidays
We sat around the table at a downtown restaurant, a group of women all well into middle age and beyond, savoring a few easy minutes in the final crazed days of the holiday season.
Looking around, it occurred to me the eight of us would make an excellent focus group. One is divorced, one widowed. Four are married, one is in a committed relationship and one is comfortably single and says she plans to keep it that way.
There is one attorney, one CEO, one retiree, one stay-at-home mother (who, in fact, had been in banking before marrying at the age of 40 and quickly producing two newborns in as many years) two self-employed, one unemployed and one clinging to a job she hates.
One of us is a vegetarian, one is sensitive to a long list of foods. The rest of us agree we eat too much of everything.
We are all very different women from different backgrounds. Between us, we have 12 children and three grandchildren with one more on the way, we speak three languages and at least two of us play a musical instrument. Our incomes range from “barely making it” to high six-figures. Our levels of education go from “some college” to advanced degrees.
But, by the end of December we all have one basic thing in common: we’re exhausted. And this year it seems worse than usual. Talking about it, we finally realized we’re suffering from a deep collective uneasiness; a lack of confidence we just can’t shake.
Usually, as one year ends and another begins, it’s human nature to salve any wounds with the belief that there are better things to come. The political climate will thaw. The economy will bloom. They’ll finally discover a chocolate-based cure for cellulite. But this year, one of us finally said it out loud. As we lifted our glasses to toast the end of one year and the beginning of another, one of the women around the table asked, “But what if next year is even worse?” We laughed but then all fell silent.
No matter what social strata you call home, the state of the world is fragile these days. So many people are out of work and many have been for quite a while. And some who’ve managed to hang onto jobs are bringing home significantly less than before. Retirement dreams have been put on hold and skyrocketing college tuition is taking a toll on family budgets or, more and more, becoming a luxury many can’t afford. And, then there’s Europe’s leaky financial boat, tethered to our own.
Finally, after a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, I raised my glass again.
“Next year will be what it will be,” I said. “And I’m willing to believe it will be a good one.”
“Always the optimist,” a friend said as she smiled at me, and I shrugged. It’s true.
There are some who believe that optimism is baked into our DNA. It is a part of who we are from the moment we’re conceived. I don’t know about that but I do know it just isn’t in me to be anything else. It keeps me moving forward and helps me find my way. The way I see it, optimism, another word for hope, is like a candle on a dark path. And we’re only truly lost if we lose that light.
So, here's to another year, and all it might bring. Here's to a bright and optimistic future.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at email@example.com
Each year, after Thanksgiving dinner, some time after the last of the dishes are washed and before the pie comes back out again, I bring up a big handwoven basket from the storeroom in the basement. The basket is the size of a bed pillow, a split-oak rectangle with a sturdy handle, and it is filled with books.
There are one or two that my husband and I brought with us when we married: his old copy of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. My 100-year-old edition of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Stories with A Christmas Carol, a story I’ve read and reread since I first opened the book as a girl. But mostly, it holds an assortment of holiday books we’ve collected since our first daughter was born more than 25 years ago; familiar titles like The Night Before Christmas, The Gift of the Magi and The Littlest Christmas Tree.
Some are old toddlers’ board books, with broken spines and peeling pages, showing the wear and tear of little hands. Others are children’s classics filled with familiar illustrations.
To me, the basket is a time capsule. A record of time spent together as a family and in the company of beloved books and stories. Each year another book is added to the collection. The new book is left propped under the tree late on Christmas Eve and is passed around on Christmas Day before going into the basket and, eventually, after the tree is undressed and all the decorations are put away, back down to the basement to wait until Christmas comes again.
It pleases me to see my grown children sit down and pull out a book when they drop by during the holidays or on Christmas Day when we’re all together. Especially the older books that were in the house when they were babies. I steal glances at them as they read. I like to think they hear, in some shadowy corner of memory, the sound of my voice and the feel of my arms around them as we read together; that they hear again the creak of the rocking chair and recall other rooms in other houses and are reminded of the sweetest years.
So much of what happens during the season is rushed and hurried. So much is new and shiny and meant to be tossed away as soon as the New Year arrives. But the basket, with it’s cargo of paper and ink and memories is evergreen. Like a precious ornament taken off the tree and put away for another day.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
I turned the corner, down an unfamiliar street, my mind so oblivious to where I was going I might just as well have been a dog with its head out the window, lost in the delicious rush of mysterious and fragrant air, just happy to be out and about with no thought of what might be ahead.
Most of the leaves had fallen from the trees, swept down by the wind and an early snowfall, and the sidewalks and street were littered with the russet and copper remnants of a spectacular autumn. But at the end of the block a scarlet tree still blazed, a burning bush, bright and vibrant against the faded landscape. Even the sun could not ignore it and sunlight danced in the tree, painting the leaves with subtle shades and shadows.
It was impossible to look away and I didn’t try. I gazed at it as I drove by and even looked back at it in the rearview mirror.
Thursday my family will sit down to our Thanksgiving meal and for the first time one of our small group will be absent. My son is away, working in Japan, and we will miss him even as we celebrate his success.
We are so fortunate to have made it this far without an empty seat at the table. Even in difficult times—and I have never pretended there weren’t some truly difficult days—we gathered, held hands, and spoke aloud the things for which we were most grateful.
Each year I compose a mental list but when it is my turn to speak, the words fly out of my head. I tear up and can say only that I am grateful for the love of those around me. But what I can never seem to get out is that I am filled with gratitude for the gift of a million small moments.
There were quiet Sundays spent reading, curled in the big chair beside the fire, my husband stretched out on the sofa. There were Saturday morning feasts that lured home grown children who filled the house with the sound of laughter and the smell of bacon and coffee.
There were quiet walks through the park with my dogs and the rapturous look on my daughter’s face as we stood in Notre Dame Cathedral on a rainy January day in Paris. There was the afternoon my son turned to me and recited a poem I’d read to him when he was a boy, and my firstborn’s secret smile when she told us her news.
There were shooting stars glimpsed from my back door and my youngest daughter’s shining face as she sat in the saddle, flying on horseback. There was, just this week, the chance encounter with a beautiful brilliant tree in a landscape that had already surrendered to winter.
On Thanksgiving Day I will blink back tears and fumble the opportunity to say what I feel. But in my heart I will celebrate the quiet gift of time and the chance to have lived one more extraordinary year of ordinary days.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is a contributing editor at Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at email@example.com