Written Dec. 7, 2019
With one excited leap, Big Blake fulfilled his holiday duty of protecting us from plastic pines.
To be fair, it wasn’t intentional. Our 85-pound English Labrador is a dog of mighty power, mighty enthusiasm and mighty little brain. Like all good dogs, he wants to guard his family. And like all big dogs, he believes that he’s the size of a terrier.
And so, when Blake watched out the front window and saw a human coming near his house, his protective instincts kicked in while his spatial awareness dropped to zero. Especially his awareness of the freshly decorated Christmas tree within millimeters of him as he turned on a dime – OK, on a quarter – and charged for the front door.
Did I mention CRASH!!!? Yeah, I thought I did.
This year marked a new holiday record for Blake. We had bought and set up the new tree (pre-lit, to spare the family’s spinal columns) less than 24 hours before. It had had a peaceful and beautiful Silent Night to start the season before its ignominious toppling to the theme of Oy To The World, The Dog Has Come.
It had been a while, but we remembered the routine. Lift everything back into place. Check for damaged ornaments (few). Untangle branches and ornaments that had gotten twisted together (many). And then step back and check the picture.
The picture, it turned out, was hung a little crookedly. Like an eager child the day after Thanksgiving, our new tree had developed a Christmas list – it was leaning just a bit to one side.
Somewhere, somehow, Blake had put a bend in the pole. Not a huge one. Not an obvious one (except to my highly detail-aware wife, Heather). The tree’s beauty was still there, but if you knew where to look, you could see that it had been through an impact.
On reflection, that’s not a bad way to see many of us at this time of year.
Every year, we’re reminded that this is a season of joy. It’s in the songs and readings, the lights and decorations, the wishes that we pass along to each other. “Merry Christmas!” “Happy Holidays!” “Have a great New Year!”
And for a number of us, the joy feels muted. It lands softly, or not at all.
It might be a season of ghosts, where memories of Christmas Past make Christmas Present a little harder to bear.
It might be a struggling time, or an anxious one, or a darkness that crept in with the cold and the snow.
It might even be something that has no reason at all, just a gray place that needs to be acknowledged for a while in silence and healing.
And that’s OK.
This shouldn’t be a time of forced gaeity. It’s not about hitting someone over the head with a jingle-bell wreath and then blasting carols at them 24 hours a day, like a Christmas edition of “A Clockwork Orange.” This is a time for remembering that we’re part of a larger family; one with hopes, and needs, and yes, pain that needs to be seen and acknowledged. To be reached out to in love, not bulldozed or whitewashed.
And as we reach out to each other, as we meet each other where we are … sooner or later, we find the joy never really went away. It felt like it. It seemed a certainty that it could never return. But in time, in that gentle, quiet reaching out, we find the joy reborn. Dented. Marked. Leaning to one side like an injured Christmas tree. But beautiful all the same.
It takes patience. But it’s one of the best gifts anyone can give.
May all of you find your joy this season, whether bright and exuberant or dented but enduring. May we welcome each other as we are and plant the seeds of what can be.
And if that welcome suddenly includes the impact of a loving but clumsy English Labrador, I am so, so sorry.