Change can come as as quickly and unrelentingly as a summer storm.
Two Thousand and Eleven was a good year.
There were so many reasons for the elevated status of those twelve little months - a happy home, the birth of a new baby, professional fulfillment and more early morning consumption of ice cream that any self-respecting adult would care to admit.
A few nights before that Christmas, my little family drove home on a long stretch of highway. Thinking about the year that was about to close, I was full the things that we hoped for, the ones we made happen, the ones I let slip, a daughter that was nearly three and the sound my youngest breathing her no longer newborn breaths. I could feel that my husband and I were a little older, him with new lines around his eyes and me with new gray in my hair.
And suddenly, I knew that the year, while abundant and lovely, had taken nearly as much as it had given. As we continued on under a sky with few stars, I felt the things I loved growing up and apart and away.
Tears slipped down my face as I stared out the window. My husband pulled off the freeway and made a left where he should have made a right.
“Where are we going?”
“To the house, he said, “the one with the lights.”
There is a house just off that interstate that hums magic during the holidays. The trees around it are positively frosted with Christmas lights. For years we passed it with nothing more than a glance as we blurred on by at 65 mph. Always meaning to stop, but never taking the time.
That night, when we pulled up out of the darkness and into the light of that house, my oldest daughter’s breath drew in and out quickly as she shouted, “Oh mommy! Daddy! Look! Oh, it is beautiful! Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness!”
And she was right. It was “oh my goodness” beautiful. There were dozens of time tested trees on the property and each one’s branches had been laced in golds, purples, pinks, blues and burn into the sky greens. We drove slowly by and pointed out each color and candy cane marvel. As we pulled away from that showcase of radiance, our little girl with her big hopes cried out,
WAIT! CAN WE GET OUT? I WANT TO TOUCH THEM. LET’S GO INSIDE THE LIGHTS. PLEASE MOMMY? PLEASE? I NEED TO GET OUT. Let us stay here.
I wanted to tell her I understood. It would be perfect to stop and touch and hold close everything pretty and sparkling and bright. How many times have I been in a moment that shined and felt like shouting, please, let me stay here! Oh, to only go into the darkness and down the road again, if and when, we wished it. I wanted to tell her about every moment with her and her sister and her daddy that I have loved. That there are some I wish I could hold in my hand, carry in my pocket. That they float away more quickly than I can catch them.
Instead, I reached over and squeezed her leg.
I know, honey. They were beautiful. We will see the lights again.
A year later, nearly to the day, I sat in by a hospital bed with my mom and dad. Doctors came in and out. I made phone calls to family and friends between the questions and the tears. Christmas was a week away and dad had just been diagnosed with Acute Leukemia.
The next five days were all hospital transfers, chemo and the oppression of a break I felt too young to face.
On Christmas Eve, we made the journey across town and snow to the hospital room my parents shared.
I had been in that room every day since my dad had been admitted. I knew what to expect. The smell of antiseptic and slick white walls covered in black cords. When we reached their door, I gathered the girls and my courage and pushed it open.
And oh my goodness, it was beautiful. The paltry Christmas decorations I had perched around chairs and windows were now lit by a garland of lights. The walls were full of quotes from my dad’s favorite books and pictures of the family. A little tree stood in the corner with presents for the grandchildren.
And then there was my mom. She wore a black velvet dress with lace around the collar and across the cuffs, her make-up was done and her hair curled beneath a bright red santa hat. She sat next to my dad, her hand in his.
That night held a soft light, the kind of luminescence that electricity can only pretend at. The babies opened their gifts on the cold floor and we laughed about old family stories and teased my brother about his new mustache. We did not deny the change that had been forced upon us, but in that illuminated moment we also seemed to decide that it would not define us. When the wrapping paper was thrown away and the goodbye kisses given, we each took the memory of that light to sustain us through the next months of shadows and uncertainty.
Herbert Spencer, philosopher, biologist and wearer of prolific mutton chops said, “ A living thing is distinguished from a dead thing by the multiplicity of the changes at any moment taking place in it.” Not only is change the natural order of things, it is, by Mr. Spencer’s estimation, proof of life. Man is quite literally made for change. When seen through a biologist’s clinical eye or discussed as a distant, disembodied thing, change seems, in theory, manageable.
But then it happens. And suddenly that big word with fuzzy meanings is deeply personal and easily defined.
And too often it shakes us.
For most of us, transitions and transformations will never be easy. The outcry of my little girl upon being taken away from those lights and my devastation in the face of my father’s illness were motivated by the same needs and hopes.
We spend our lives seeking purpose, comfort and happiness. Each time we must leave a space containing any of those things, it feels as if we have left our own homecoming prematurely. “But”, our souls cry, “I just got here. How can you send me out again into a demanding world, a different world, a bigger world? I am content.”
There comes a time when each of us must face the magnificent and terrifying truth that we were not made to be content, we were made to be expansive. And change - big, small, delightful, painful – change, is the surest way to reach the places we were made to go.
Now, There is great hope here amongst all the striving and upheaval. We have the power to alchemize unwanted circumstances by giving them direction. We are given the ability to instigate and pursue the changes we want. And every once awhile, those transitions we so fear….really do turn out for the best.
But what about the sorrows? The heartbreaks without reverse? The moments lost and never regained? What about those? And yes, my friends, there will be many of those.
For those instances, I offer my open arms and heartfelt hopes. And I give each of us the same reassurance I gave to a little girl on a dark night years ago.
You will see the light again.
Yes, I make images of quotes solely for the purpose of you pinning them. Because I am a sell out like that.