I like the holidays. I know that to declare this is a little like admitting to a room full of academics that I am fond of musicals or romantic comedies. I can see their erudite expressions and feel the disdain: Bosh!
But I don’t care if the holidays are a weird futuristic, science-fictiony blend of religion and materialism that have grown together into some kind of half-good half-evil plant with blossoms and teeth and healing powers, too. I like them. In the throng of activity (or energy) there is also humanity, beauty, and a spirit that lifts me.
The bell-ringer for the Salvation Army tells me that someone dropped a hundred dollars into his bucket the other night. “It all adds up,” he says. The grocery stores are collecting meals and filling bags of food to give away, the schools collecting coats, boots, and toys. My son, Ari and I are putting together puzzles to make sure all the pieces are there before we add them to our pile of gently used toys to drive to the school.
And people slow down to do things together—even as the pace increases. Ari and I go ice-skating with boys from his school. A mad game of ice tag breaks out on the small rink. The boys are delighted when the lights come on; want to wait to try the ice one more time after the Zamboni has smoothed over all the jags and bumps and cuts as if it were always that easy. We drink cocoa with whipped cream, arrange times to bake and decorate cookies, see lights, and plan presents to make for his teachers.
Ari and I have been attempting to master a Christmas carol on the marimba. We are buoyed by confidence from our success with the basic cords for the theme song to Harry Potter, but Deck the Halls proves more difficult. So we decide to hang lights.
Ari is light artist, and he wants them everywhere. He wraps strings of lights around the house as if he is tying it down under luminosity: green lights around one side of the porch; colored lights under the step; a tree of lights near the railing; white lights rising up in a triangle. It is asymmetry at its best.
The lights don’t stay outside. They spread through the house as boundary-less as ivy growing, over the fireplace, into Ari’s room, across the dining room, growing, lights over the fireplace. It is a child’s lesson given by Grover. "Around, around, around, around, over and under and through.”
When we are done, the house glimmers, a lake of gleaming colors, reflects stars, glittering in the night sky. The rooms radiate light like hope and warmth and something gentle. This is how it feels in good moments. And I know that Ari’s enthusiasm for decorations, frosting cookies, lights, trees, and celebration is infectious as a song I remember as part of me; it is so familiar.
I wish everyone were near a child right now and could experience the simple awe that rises as the night falls and people turn on their lights.
I am happy that the season Ari and I share is taking shape through our own evolving traditions and not a set of existing beliefs. Ari is taking it all in. Next week we are going for a simple dinner to celebrate Hanukkah with friends. Ari says that, “Spin the dreidel is so fun.” Ari is an enthusiast and up for it all.
On Thursday morning, I wake up alone to a cold house. The electricity is out everywhere in the neighborhood, and it is a shock to the system. A part of me wants to take it personally. As if the lights are out to test my holiday spirit, to remind me that life is precarious and that these lights are just lights; sudden moments of joy are not meant to last; joy would be diluted by joy and nothing would make us happy. But a part of me doesn’t believe this. I am wired for optimistic surges that keep me going and threaten my better judgments especially about people.
Even so, the cold dark morning pulls me in. There is no denying it. This holiday it is difficult not to have a family of my own. Sometimes, especially when Ari is with his father, when I look into the living room, I see a room waiting, on pause, for Ari’s return. It is a room entirely empty despite the glitter and material signs of celebration.
Ari is off with his father and his father’s fiancée. They are stretching taffy on a machine, and I feel the spin of the blades as the taffy grows as if twisting inside of me. Divorce is not a holiday-friendly event. I miss my son and miss all the moments I am missing of his experience and am acutely aware that I don’t even know what they are. Happy families multiply in these moments. Suddenly, they are everywhere I turn, holding hands, laughing, touching as I search out a coffee shop with electricity. Tonight, they will walk down to the parade of lights together, as a family with my son.
I hope that eventually I will learn not to live in this suspended animation, waiting for Ari’s return. Eventually, I hope that I will find the bravery to step out alone to find ways to have the lights shine—even when the electricity is out.
During these holidays, when Ari is away, I fill up my empty room with a man, sitting next to me by the fire. Sometimes we go outside and walk hand-in-hand, and I imagine it doesn’t matter that the sky is covered by clouds. It is hope and longing that cause it when loneliness slices into me like a skate over ice. There is no Zamboni to smooth over the hurt. The ruts and slashes are part of me now.
The electricity comes back on before it is time for me to pick Ari up from school. Later today, we will have our very own tour of lights. It is one of our traditions that we both love. The car will be warm and the music joyful. “Down that way,” Ari will say, and I will turn the car in the direction he is pointing, and we let the lights lead us, and we will rejoice in all that we see.