It's days before Christmas, and all through the house the excitement is palatable, but I'm a bit of a grouse. Christmas cheer is everywhere, songs of miracles, mangers, and mistletoe loop on iTunes, adding to the general charm. But it's the Christmas lights that make me smile, especially the ones Larry put up in the courtyard off the master room, when I wake up in the middle of the night, I'm comforted by the colorful light pouring onto my bed. Snowmen, santas, sleighs, and stockings all occupy their usual places. Need I explain? It's a calculated set, like The Truman Show, because "we accept the reality of the world with which we are presented. It's as simple as that." I am obsessed with recreating Christmas past, it's my religion, where I have God neatly packaged and defined. I might have a few control issues.
I've purchased a slew of thoughtful gifts (according to the most recent gallop polls), wrapped them up with coordinating paper, placed them strategically under the trimmed tree, my pile of amor. I am euphoric, satiated, fullfilled. This normally lasts three or four glorious minutes. Then my obsessive-compulsive disorder kicks in, a bloody battle ensues, and my pocket book will not be the victor. Did I buy enough? Will so and so be disappointed? Are they all of equal value? Does chartreuse make him look pale? Maybe the kids don't need those whatchamajiggers on sale at Target? I could continue but I'll spare you the gory details. My idea of celebrating Christmas can be "pretty, fragrant, and totally poisonous." I saw that quote in a book about plants and was struck by its applicability to a materialistic yuletide. I give myself a metaphoric slap in the face, reminiscent of Cher in Moonstruck, "Snap out of it."
This year I intend to celebrate the birth of Christ with softness, wonder and awe, carefully swaddling the memories of Christmas past, so as not to leave a part of myself behind. I'm remembering the year we experienced a true Christmas miracle. I share this memory with you, but leave the cameras behind, I'm still searching for the epiphany.
It was early December, 2007, when the great storm hit the Northwest, "if weather is the earth's emotion, she was obviously enraged," Nayyirah Waheed. My sister and I were enjoying our annual Christmas shopping spree with Mom in Portland, where we knock out purchases for six kids and six adults, in a mere forty-eight hours, tax free. We never considered canceling our cherished event because of a little rain. We just finished up our two day mall sprint, Mom was dropping us at the airport, when word of massive flooding caught us off guard. I still dream of water when I feel out of control.
We called Dad, who we assumed was home in Chehalis, enjoying dinner by a warm fire. The news reports indicated Chehalis was the site of the worst flooding, but he did not tell us water was already pouring into their house, damaging everything they held most dear. He told us not to worry. He had everything under control. I remember her face, his words, and how disorienting this diaspora of truth. We all felt it, but remained silent, because words can be more powerful than the sea. That was the last call Dad took.
By the time Nancy and I landed in San Jose we had been out of communication with Dad for several hours, he was diabetic, alone, without electricity, and of course we feared the worst. Larry met us at the airport, he had been in contact with the sheriff's office in Chehalis, requesting a rescue for Dad. They had limited resources, they couldn't commit to sending someone out, to the little house on Donahue Road, surrounded by water. Mom ended up stranded at some roadside motel, the five closed in both directions due to flooding, exhausted she fell asleep listening to the disparaging news.
Dad waded through the murky, ice cold water, in the pitch dark, trying to save mom's most cherished heirlooms. Until he tripped, fell against a marble table, and broke his ribs. Blinded by pain, he lost track of his phone, and the severity of the situation. The only way out of his property was a narrow road with severe declines on both sides. This road was completely underwater, unable to drive out, Dad was stranded. As the water steadily rose in the house, he crawled onto his king size bed, wrapped himself in the comforter Aunt Pat made them for Christmas a decade ago, and waited out the storm.
It was a little after three in the morning, Dad woke to someone yelling, "Is anyone here?" A young man made his way through the dark house and found Dad curled up on a bed surrounded by water. I can't imagine how Dad managed to climb into a metal basket, dangling from a Medavac Chopper, with broken ribs, in freezing cold, waist high water? His Ark had arrived, he was deposited at a nearby hospital, with no phone, no wallet, and no shoes. They cut off his sweats in emergency (Insert, Dad's inappropriate joke about his irresistible masculinity). He was one of a kind. Released from the hospital, outfitted in a flimsy hospital gown, he was sent to the shelter, with no way to communicate his whereabouts. I pummeled God with progressively desperate prayers and apparently God heard me.
Lloyd was our Christmas miracle that year, somehow he learned that Dad was airlifted to the hospital, he found the only open road into town, located my dad at the shelter, and brought him home. He contacted Mom, told her how to get past the road blocks, using only back roads, then he made sure dad was comfortable and safe. I remember that Christmas like it was yesterday, it reordered my priorities, and brought into focus that which is most important, being with the ones we love. A true Advent. Nothing else matters. Why it took a flood for me to understand these things, I do not know, but history has a way of repeating itself, especially when we fail to love. I miss my Dad, he passed away a few years ago, a jolly old soul, and this memory has become a most precious gift.
This year I'm not going to get my tinsel in a tangle. All my kids are coming home for Christmas and for this I am enormously grateful. I'm going to enjoy the spirit of the season, ignore the chaos, the fear of never being enough for those I love, and the pressure to be perfect in an imperfect world. Recreating poignant family traditions is the best part of Christmas, it's messy, blessed, and hopefully transformational. I realize I am continually in need of rescue, but God figured this out, plucked me out of a whirlpool of self-doubt, and gave me you. Merry Christmas to all...and to all a good night.
Come visit me at Living in the Gap, all are welcome.
And a very happy birthday to my daughter Kelley!