Erma: Ha. You just wait. One day you’ll be looking back just as I am right now and wondering how you survived so many Christmases.
Sylvia: I have no illusions. I’ve watched you, and you’ve always come through with flying colors. Honestly, how have you managed?
Erma: I remember that all of the feelings – the wonder and joy, the sadness and stress- they won’t last. So, in the midst of it all, just show up, Sylvia. Soak it all in.
The most honest thing you can do to demonstrate love is simply to show up! Be present.
The month of December has never been a favorite of Sylvia’s, not since adulthood kicked in anyway. She recalls it also being an incredibly stressful month for her mom, her Erma, who worked her ass off to give her four little gremlins the most amazing Christmases. From decking the halls to writing out hundreds of holiday cards (a task which was the first to fall off the Christmas to-do list as the the years brought with them less time, arthritic and overworked hands, and more grandchildren) to baking the classic spritzes and cherry-walnut coffee cake, Erma did it all, year after year after year.
Looking back, Sylvia realizes her father worked too, of course, to make the holidays happen, but he never participated in any of the holiday preparation which Sylvia now sees as the real magic. If Erma, her mom, was the Christmas magician, then certainly Dad was the sidekick assistant who knew Mom’s routine and didn’t dare mess with it. As Sylvia looks back now, the memory of the side glances her parents exchanged as she and her siblings opened their gifts illuminates as brightly as the lights on the freshly decorated tree on a dark winter’s night. While her father’s look queried, “We bought that too?” Erma’s silent reply made only with her hazy baby blues (glazed over after all because she was the one up all night wrapping) rebuked matter-of-factly, “Yes, that too, dear. Smile, damn it. It’s Christmas. We want them to be happy, don’t we?” At that point, the side glances stopped because Dad knew the battle had been lost. Debt was inevitable. But when all was said and done, he and Mom had “worked together” to create the magic of Christmas. And to that I say, ” Not bad at all, folks, for the couple with the cards proverbially stacked against them – the always smiling, Jewish track star originally from Chelsea and the blonde, incredibly smart, Catholic girl from the project in New Britain.
How did they prevail? They held on tight! They showed up for one another. Don’t get me wrong. They had their ups-and-downs, their sad and angry moments. In the end though, at the close of each day, they were present- for each other and for their family in every way that mattered and made a difference.
So, as Sylvia stays with her father several nights this week until he falls asleep, she thinks about the gifts she has yet to wrap, yet to purchase, yet to give or receive. She’s going materially minimalist this year. Purposely. She has to. It’s time. She needs to declutter mind, body, and spirit. Oh, she’s purchased more than a few small items, enough to make the stockings bulge and be too heavy to hang. Big items though have yet to make their way through the lines at the stores, as Sylvia is just not feeling like suffering through the drama of commercial chaos at its best. Yes, it’s Christmas, but she is scaling back. Intentionally. Did you catch that- those two words? PURPOSE and INTENTION.
Sylvia and Erma intend to hold on tight. They propose you do the same. There’s purpose in an arm around the shoulder, a peck on the cheek, a phone call, a hand held across the table. The purpose- the goal? Presence.
I’m here. For you. For them. This year though I’m here for me. It’s a beginning. It’s something. It’s quite possibly everything.
Expressions of affection, like putting your arm around someone’s shoulder, holding hands, or giving a kiss good night, involve the principle of honesty.
~ John Bytheway