Death Takes A Holiday

It happens every year. While I'm still living in the afterglow of August (which, thanks to fires and record-low humidity, went on a very long time this year), I find myself eating at a Thanksgiving table, and then it's just a matter of days until the denouement of Christmas. I officially panic at the prospect of not just the holiday, but of the end of the year and a deadline that suddenly looms for all the things I was supposed to do in 2008, but didn't. Or that I did halfway, which feels worse because it's distressing proof that I start things but can never finish them - better to have left the whole endeavor in the ether of ideas.

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First comes denial: I try and resist the downhill chronological slide by digging my heels into the side of the mountain. But there's nothing to dig into because it's frozen over or crumbling to dust, and has been for a while. Next comes anger. I have to start buying stuff for practically everybody I know, but I don't want to or can't afford to (guess which one it is this year?). I actually like shopping and wouldn't mind buying for four or five, but I can never come up with a fair and balanced gift list. Finally there's acceptance, but it's a grudging one; I don't stop glaring at Christmas paraphernalia until about the 22nd, when winter actually starts. At which point I feel angry all over again because we've all just missed December, which can never be experienced as a real month, like April and June, but only as a warning, a thinning bulwark between you and disaster:

You have ten seconds to exit the vehicle! Nine seconds...eight...

Does anybody ever say, "Hey, let's get together for lunch in December?" No. Better make all your appointments before then or go out, break down and buy that 2009 calendar at full price. For all the anticipation and genuine good cheer, Christmas is a giant crack in the sidewalk we're all trying to avoid like crazy. Didn't it used to be the tenth month? Who did the bait and switch? Never mind.

Something else happens every year, though how it happens is much less predictable. My grinch-itude simmers, swells and hardens into rock. It feels immovable. And then, out of nowhere, it's shifted by the most ordinary thing--a bit of news or an incident or an observation that makes me realize how very right I was about Christmas, and also how wrong.

This year it was a Yahoo News headline, something I see every time I go to surf the 'web, which is often. Generally the headline is some celebrity-oriented gossip that I hurry past. Somewhere around last Monday, it was something else: a story about an 11-year-old boy stricken with leukemia whose dying wish was to feed the homeless in his town where he lived.

Oh sure, said my grinch. One of those heartstring stories packaged for the holidays that's probably exaggerating reality to boost ratings... To prove it, I clicked the mouse and watched the video. The boy appeared. His voice was soft, and he was swollen, like he'd taken too many steroids. He seemed old, 111 instead of just 11. The story of the effort to feed the homeless was nice, though not new. I thought: Been here, watched this. And then the last segment of the video announced that the boy had died in his mother's arms not long before the story was released. I had been watching someone. a very young someone, who was no longer here. He was at the end. To only be at the end of the year, with all its unresolvedness that I grumble about, would have been heaven for him.

I have time, still. I have Christmas. I don't know what I'll do with it. I don't know what I wish it to be. But I'll figure out something.

The image associated with this post was taken by Flickr user boskizzi. It was used under Creative Commons license.

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