I’ll be walking, or driving, or having a conversation, and the sun will fall across my path just the right way, or a song will come on the radio, or someone will say a certain phrase, and for a moment, I’m no longer in the present. The past is here.
Places do this for me, as well. I can still hear the echoes of long-ago words in coffee shops and parking lots, apartments and grocery stores.
There is something about sensation. Something about being in the same place, hearing the same thing, tasting or feeling or smelling that hijacks my conscious mind.
I don’t always want to go.
It’s so cold, this year. My fingers are freezing as I type, and I’m wrapped in blankets and wearing fuzzy socks.
I’ve been running into the past a lot lately.
Last year, at this time, I was just beginning to admit that the relationship I’d been trying to resuscitate for months was truly dead. I walked through the wind and the cold and the snow, evening after evening, to an apartment which didn’t feel like anyone really lived there. The Wal-Mart box, in which the set of tumblers had come, was still on the floor, the fridge was nearly empty, the freezer was stocked with corn dogs and Hot Pockets.
When it all started, in the summer, I prayed my doubts away. They obeyed my hands as I crammed them down, but they didn’t vanish. It is fruitless, now, to ask what might have happened if I’d listened then.
Near the end, I was always the one driving half an hour in the cold. I bundled up, bringing a big down coat, two pairs of mittens, two pairs of socks, and a cup of hot tea. I sat, alone, watching him defend his end of the ice, my headphones in, shivering.
I went to those games, always late at night, for some proof of his passion.
I went as proof of my own.
I saw his passion, fiery and silent when they lost, jubilant and celebratory when they won. But I was never part of it. I was only ever a spectator, freezing on the sidelines.
I walked through last Advent gingerly, careful where I stepped. We were on thin ice, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I broke through.
But it’s almost Christmas. It was my first Christmas with someone.
We spent the holidays with our families, together.
I think we all knew that the end was coming.
I loved the way I felt in his family home. I may have been more at home there than he was. I purchased the perfect present for his sister (I’d drawn her name), and selected a wine to bring for Christmas Eve.
But even as we went to parties and sipped cocoa, wrapped presents and connected with (his) out of town friends, I knew it wasn’t real.
I tried to hold on to what it felt like to have someone at Christmas.
But I didn’t, and I knew it.
I was working too hard, and staying up too late and I got very sick, as you do.
Still, when he pleaded with me to go and play Laser Tag with friends because he really really wanted me to. I complied.
I ordered hot tea in a bar, which came in a beer mug. I ran through the dark, smoky maze, carrying a gun, until I physically couldn’t anymore. I leaned against the wall and fought back tears (and coughs and sniffles).
The end didn’t come until the earliest part of January, but when I think about it now, that is one of the ends I think about.
I’m learning that when something ends, it usually ends over and over again, louder and louder, until I can’t ignore it anymore. Until I say: enough.
I’m thinking about this a lot, just now, triggered by the cold, the inability to find a parking space downtown, the holiday events that happen like clockwork in my city, and the million other inexplicable things that send a shot into my memory.
This is Advent.
One of the things that I love about this season is that I know so much more of the story. The joy of Jesus coming is great, but it is not all. Jesus came, He was here, He died, He rose again. The joy begins with the coming, but it does not end.
I received the courage to put an end to the unhealthy thing I was holding too close, last year. But that wasn’t the end of the story. That one act of previously unknown courage began a year of brave choices, unforeseen opportunities and great blessing. The coming of courage was a joyful thing, but the joy did not stop there. The joy has not stopped yet.
I’m living here, in Advent, knowing that I will not spend this Christmas with someone. But I’m embracing the tension of distant shapes on the horizon, of knowing that although so much joy has been given: more is on the way. I don’t yet know the rest of the story.
I am not standing here denying the sorrow, denying the pain and denying the seemingly inexplicable horrors all around me. I cannot. But I am choosing to believe Jesus, to look deep into His eyes and hear His words: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
I’m keeping my eyes open.