One hundred and five Christmases.

Once upon a time, Christmas sparkled.  It glittered like new snow and winter stars.  It whispered with secrets, and sang out with joy to the world, and smelled of pinecones and wood fires.  It was as brilliant as red ribbons curling around unopened paper-wrapped packages.  And it was filled with grace and truth, vulnerability and hope.

When I was perhaps eight or nine years old, I was lying in bed on Christmas Eve, with too many sweets and sweet anticipation tossing me about, and I began to calculate the Christmases that I would be able to celebrate in my lifetime.  I must have only recently come to the conscious understanding that I was not an infinite being – although my family typically enjoys birthdays well into our nineties, often beyond.

That night, I happily decided I would live to be one hundred and five years old.  And so, I would celebrate one hundred and five Christmases (with the great majority of them yet to come).

One hundred and five Christmases, I counted.  And I was devastated.  Only one hundred and five Christmases … in my entire lifetime!  I wanted at least a thousand.  How could a person be limited to just one hundred and five Christmas experiences?  How could one truly appreciate all of the thrill and pure magic and wondrous love that Christmas had to offer – with a mere one hundred and five of them to celebrate?

Regardless of my concerns, year-after-year, Christmases came and went and came again – with slowly and subtly shifting joys and priorities and treasured remembrances woven throughout each of them.

The intertwining of the secular with the spiritual messages of Christmas also ebbed and flowed over the years in my experiences.  There were years of sharing and years of solitude.  Times of joy and those of loss.  Yet each held its own particular sense of grace and wonder and awe – and belief in the unopened gifts of possibility and purpose of the season. 

But there is one Christmas in particular – that happened long before I was even born – that forever humbles me and always fills me with great hope.  It is the year of the historical Christmas truce of 1914, during WWI.  All along the Western Front, French, German and British soldiers laid down their guns.  And they crossed the trenches.  And they shared their pitiful rations, their sympathies, their humanity, with each other.  It had been suggested by the Pope, and it had been rejected by the Generals.  But the men themselves spontaneously made it happen.  They celebrated this holy time of peace, with peace, in peace – regardless of the consequences.  

I suspect this remarkable act of Christmas was not simply out of an aching tiredness, but out of an aching hope for the future, and trust in the inherent goodness in humanity, and faith in each other – and something greater than each other. 

I also suspect that I’m not alone in an increasing need to grasp hold of such good-will-to-all threads of Christmas.  To want to hold them fast and wind them around and through the hearts of all the world.  I want to celebrate the Christmas spirit that has at times defined love and created kindness among strangers. That has the power to feed the hungry and wrap blankets around the cold.  That spirit that sings songs to one another and hopes all things are possible.  That spirit that forgives.  That spirit that once even stopped a war – if only for a few hours – when we as human beings brought Christmas to one another in the middle of a battlefield.  

Perhaps that historic act of peace and grace and wisdom whispers to my own heart and soul with special significance this year.  Perhaps it is because it took place exactly one hundred and five years ago this December.  It happened one hundred and five Christmases ago.  

Once upon a time, Christmas sparkled.

Wipe your feet and look for hearts.

The woman stopped and wiped her feet on the tufted mat at the door.  Then she hesitated another moment longer before entering the church.  She was older, dressed in plain dark clothing, wearing her Sunday shoes.  It was a fair day.  So the wiping of her feet seemed less necessary than it was symbolic.  

She was attending a funeral.  And I began to suspect that, more than any dirt or dust from the soles of her shoes, she was somehow also wiping off any bits of worldliness clinging to the underside of her thoughts and heart – leaving it outside, shuffling it off at the door.  So that she would be open to the experience at hand.  It seemed an incredibly respectful gesture.  Terribly mindful and meaningful and tender. more “Wipe your feet and look for hearts.”

Speaking with authentic voices.

It was an old book.  Not rare or antique, but rather vintage.  Just old enough to smell of aging library glue and dried damp, and to have sepia-toned edges and dog-eared corners that marked passages now long-forgotten, in spite of the inspiration they must have once incited.

It was a book my father had given to me, but I don’t remember why.  It is titled:  “Change Your Voice, Change Your Life.” more “Speaking with authentic voices.”

Traveling with chocolate – in planes, cars, and life.

Nobody wants to travel by air with a cranky flight crew. 

Our plane had already been delayed by various unrelated circumstances when one passenger suddenly realized her laptop computer was in her plane-side-loaded luggage (lithium battery and all), and so it had to be found, taken out, and brought into the cabin with us for safety reasons.  So the flight attendant made an announcement to that effect, again.  And two more passengers came forward, exchanging their chagrin for our safety, and their bags were duly located, unloaded, and unpacked.  Happily, nothing exploded, nothing caught fire, nobody got hurt; although we were by then about 45 minutes delayed, and the flight crew was getting rather irked.  (I think the rest of us were just sitting quietly cringing with the thought:  “Yipes … those batteries are in everything … it’s hard to remember them all … that could have been me.”) more “Traveling with chocolate – in planes, cars, and life.”

Living like dandelions.

If childhood had a flower all its own, I think it would be the dandelion.  From the first time we’re plopped down onto a blanket on the lawn one happy spring day, dandelions appear at just the right height and brightness for a young, curious gaze.  They nod and dance for us, invite us to touch and play, looking like a thousand round golden faces wearing lions’ manes and green scarves. more “Living like dandelions.”

A treat for Quincy the dog.

It was intended to be a treat for him.  A play date.  One of my neighbors and I had considered the possibility of Quincy the dog staying at their house while I traveled later in the month.  

They live just down the street, and there are four dogs in their family.  The dogs all greet and interact with us everyday as Quincy and I walk past their house in the mornings.

The leader of their pack is bossy and smart and owns the entire corner inside his fence; he and Quincy trash-talk a great deal through the chainlink fence, but it’s done in good spirit and with mutual understanding.  The newest member of their troupe is a girl dog that Quincy has a tremendous crush on; she’s a flirt and adorable and knows it.  The third is a misfit who gets by on his personality; he and Quincy have hit it off since he moved in a few years back, tails wagging til they almost fall apart as soon as they see each other (perhaps that accounts for why this guy has only half a tail).  The fourth is a Corgi; the oldest, the slowest, the wisest, the real brains of the group.

So we thought it would be a treat for Quincy to be one of the gang – playing with the cool kids, sitting in with the band.  At first it was.  And then it wasn’t. more “A treat for Quincy the dog.”

Looking back … living forward.

I remember dog Sophie was full-grown but still quite young at the time.  Sophie was of mixed heritage, carrying the genes of some sort of shepherding breed, which created and crafted her reality primarily through the perception of sight.  She navigated the world with her eyes – bush to bush, brick by brick, trees to rocks to houses, between fence lines and lampposts.  

When Sophie was very young, and experiencing each new season for the first time, she used to bark and coax me from my desk to follow her outside for something startlingly new, of which she felt I should be made aware – often simply a new blossom on an old camellia bush, or a fallen branch from the great oak tree.  After I had been alerted to this newness, she would accept the alteration to the landscape of her life – until the next season (or a new day) brought fresh changes and shifts to the truth of her world.

But this particular day in my memory, when Sophie was perhaps a year and a half into her life, I took her to the grounds of the Aiken County Historical Museum. more “Looking back … living forward.”

Lessons from Mrs. Orange Berry

Her name was Mrs. Orange Berry.  She lived just to the left of the front steps of our house when I was very young.  She was a lovely old, plump, slightly prickly bush.  And she bore compelling orange berries that were terribly poisonous to humans.  I can still see my tiny baby fingers as I would pick the round berries and stir them with water in a toy tin pot with a small tin spoon making “stew.”  Fortunately, I was never tempted to actually eat the stew; after all, I had been told the berries were poison and I was a mindful child.  But Mrs. Orange Berry and I would chat together about important things and cook our stew in my little tin pot on a rather regular basis. more “Lessons from Mrs. Orange Berry”

The power of the human voice; the presence of the written word.

I have a friend who is a trained crisis negotiator.  I don’t like to think about all the whys and whens of her being needed to act in that capacity.  But I’m glad she’s there.  The first thing you notice about her is the quietness of her voice.  The calm of it.  It’s authentic and carries a touch of good humor just below the surface.  And whatever she says seems to make good sense and is true and can be trusted.  It’s all in there – in just the sound of her voice. more “The power of the human voice; the presence of the written word.”

Flowers, pollen, and other random possibilities.

A rather long time ago, I wrote an article about the ancientness of flowers.  It was long before I began to write my stories for you or we even knew each other.  It was long before I came to live in this wondrous place of old-world gardens carved out of nature-saturated surroundings.  But what I still remember most from researching and writing that article was the image of the earth carpeted and canopied in blossoms of color and fragrance and beauty – ages before there were any people to appreciate it.  It was well before there were many of today’s species of animals (most of the very first flowers had to contend with being trampled on or eaten by dinosaurs).   more “Flowers, pollen, and other random possibilities.”