If you're grabbing some quick blog-reading amongst your other goings on, I have a few posts to recommend.
A few hours ago, my eldest asked me when we were going to go pick up our Christmas tree. I couldn't do anything but mumble some rather incoherent, "I'm not sure we're going to be able to have a tree this year." Trees, lights, trimmings, all cost money, and while Eric's now gainfully employed, we don't expect to see a check this week. I've picked out a few books to wrap for Christmas morning, and may concoct a treasure hunt to draw out the fun. But it will definitely be a non-material holiday around here.
We're lucky, though, as it's just a day, and we'll be paid soon enough. But we've had a tough enough year financially to empathise with the millions of Americans who don't know if the money for food, rent or transportation, let alone extravagancies like Christmas trees and presents, will ever again appear.
The winter holidays are often a time when the stark contrast between rich and poor become most obvious. Those of us with decent incomes and families who also have decent incomes lament the abundance we're showered with and worry about our children being too materialistic. Lurking in the back of our minds, we may know people who have nothing, who scrape together just enough money to get their kids something for Christmas or who rely on charity to provide gifts and food for the holidays. I find myself sometimes feeling guilty about not doing more. Or living less abundantly. Partly I don't do more because I don't feel financially secure even though I know I make more than 90% of the country. I worry about losing a job, about putting my kids through college, about being able to buy a new car when the old one breaks down. But these are frivilous worries compared to some. Even if one of us lost our job, we'd find a way to survive. We might have to buy a cheaper home, buy fewer clothes and toys, but we'd be able to eat.
My grandma made it just past her ninety-third birthday. Ninety-three years worth of days. Sometimes they must have seemed like they were going on forever. But I bet at other times they seemed to fly by like so many shimmering lights in the distance as you rush down a darkened highway on a winter night. So many flickering holiday tables, with so many overlapping, ever-changing sets of family. The tables of her childhood, crowded with cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents and parents, became the tables of her adulthood and her dotage: siblings, a spouse, in-laws, sons, nieces and nephews, daughters-in-law, grandchildren. People disappear from the holiday table, never to return, and their places are taken by others. The moment that any gathering lasts, with any particular grouping of the beloved, is breathtakingly brief.
A few hours ago, I saw my granny at her nursing home for the first time in quite a while. While she is, in many ways, no longer a willing participant in her own life (which her body insists on continuing, despite her disinterest in things like eating), she seemed to enjoy our brief visit, to chance onto a happy memory or two.
As much as we learn about the world, we seem woefully ignorant about the course our own lives will end up taking -- and, for that matter, of how to reconcile our stubborn insistence on individualism and independence with the fact that, for many of us, we will need as much help on the way out of our lives as we needed on the way in.
It's good to be your own person, but we are, all of us, connected to each other. We are, all of us, connected to those who have less than us and to people who have more, whether material goods or emotional resources. We are, all of us, connected to those who are in parts of their lives where they feel perfectly at home and to other people who are in parts of their lives which are ordeals. We are connected to those with whom we are working at cross-purposes as much as we are to our allies. While we do what we can to steer our lives, none of us has a clear view of what's over the horizon. Perfect control of your trajectory is just not in the cards. Human condition and all that.
We do have each other, though, and that matters a lot.
In this past year, I have felt very blessed to have you regular commenters and lurkers (yes, I know you're there) along for the ride. As ephemeral as the blogosphere may feel at times, I am thankful for the real community you have helped to build here. I hope in the new year that you'll continue to impinge on my trajectory, whether through the ether or in the three-dimensional world.
My very best wishes to you and yours.