Thursday, December 21, 2006

O, Christmas Tree

It is not a perfect Christmas tree. Several of its branches dangle in slings made of fishing line to minimize gaping holes in its architecture. The lights are not exactly even. Some of the ornaments are faded and bent into something other than their original shapes. But it is, like Charlie Brown’s tree, infused with a real-ness that arises from the something other than lights and ornaments.

Dangling near the window and sending erratic flashes of light around the room is a tiny brass ornament with my name engraved along the bottom. My friend Pam’s mother smoked Lord-knows-how-many-packs of Virginia Slims to redeem the personalized ornament offer for the six of us our freshman year at Wesleyan. On one of the lower sturdier limbs is a three-dimensional representation of a runner lighting the Olympic torch, Sandra’s acknowledgment in Christmas of 1996 of the great fun I had in being a part of the relay through Statesboro.

The mouse dressed as an angel was a gift from Jessica who sat at my conference room table one day and nearly lost her breath laughing at stories of my rodent phobia. The sea horse is made of Saint Simons sand. The ceramic Claddagh reminds me of Mandy and Celtic music and all kinds of secrets.

Scattered over the limbs are the snowflakes and balls that Mama crocheted and the tiny Chrismons I cross-stitched when I got my first place. There is a glazed dough pig and a little balsa wood birdcage, a china bell painted with a dogwood blossom and a silver one engraved with my initials, a baseball that opens on a hinge to reveal Santa Claus in red and white pinstripes. A tiny porcelain cross hangs from a green ribbon near the top.

At the top of the tree is a big Waterford crystal star, a gift from Lucy and her parents the year we all stood in front of the judge whose hurried and harried attitude could not dampen our awe and delight at the legal acknowledgment of what we’d all known for some time – that Lucy was home.

There must be over a hundred ornaments on the tree, each one placed there by my hand, the touch connecting me to people and places and times, some of them gone forever except in my memory. It is not a perfect Christmas tree, but like every tree in every home in every town it is a representation of the life that is sheltered and nurtured here. It is, like the Little Prince’s rose, unique in all the world.

Soon it will be taken apart, piece by piece, ornament by ornament and packed away in the attic until next year. But on this Christmas Eve, between heading off to church in early morning to light the fourth Advent candle and heading back in the early darkness for Communion, I will still my thoughts and my heart long enough to sit and stare. To remember Pam’s mother. To think about Sandra and Jessica and Mandy and Lucy. To say a prayer of gratitude for the hands that crocheted the snowflakes. To invite the spirits of all the people I love to join me under the tree in marveling at all we share.

Copyright 2006

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