Friday, December 12, 2014

Running On Empty (In Search Of Christmas)

Running on empty, running blind.  Running into the sun, but I’m running behind…
When did Christmas become an illusion?  Has it always been?  If so, then it means our entire childhoods were a lie. 
Christmas has had its ups and downs this year.  I attended what was supposed to be a festive luncheon but there was a shadow cast over the crowd.  The dour mood was contagious.  When all was said and done, one hateful Grinch had ruined it for many of us.  Knowing what I knew, I tried to keep in mind that misery is often projected from the inside. 
The next day, with the generosity of friends and family, we raised a small fortune for the Toys For Tots foundation.  One of the soldiers who attended said he thought it was great that we did this each year.  “I’m always at corporate parties or large events, but I’ve never seen anyone do this as a personal cause.  What an amazing group.  We are very fortunate for people such as yourself who puts their time into helping us out.”  I went to sleep that night feeling like I’d done a good thing. 
And woke up to a vile letter from the Grinch.  “Don’t let them ruin your day,” gets tossed at me when I vent to friends, but they aren’t the target so that’s an easy sentiment.  I have to convince myself that someone out there is having a worse day than I am, or they wouldn’t say those things that made up such a toxic diatribe. 
It seems to me that everywhere I go, people are segregated from each other.  It isn’t even a collective depression.  Everyone is lost in their own heads and there’s little light to be found.  The loneliness in the air is palpable whether I’m alone or in a room full of people. 
So, I went searching for Christmas.
I kissed my husband Roger goodbye, settled into my car with some comfort music and did what I do best; hit the open road.  I drove away from the every day with the determination that I was going to find candy canes and lit up trees and stockings hung with care.  As the day slipped past me, I could feel the ocean waves on my horizon and they pulled me home.  The sun seemed as if it were waiting for me to arrive before saying goodnight. 
Yesterday I wandered around a Dutch tourist town, but even there I was disappointed in the lack of gaiety along the quiet parks and walkways.  I’d tucked my little sock monkey, Chinga, into my purse and together we posed with gingerbread houses and Santa Clauses.  I wandered into a book store, and there we met Tom, a friendly fellow manning the register.  I'd been browsing the store and listening to this loud group of people sitting outside in the dark at a coffee shop table. I remarked that he must overhear a lot of interesting conversations. He laughed and nodded to the group. "Supposedly in the interest of God, but I have my doubts." He laughed and asked where I was from. We talked a bit before he said “I like your sock monkey.” and pointed at the shock of red yarn hair spilling out of my bag.  I introduced him to Chinga.  Tom is from Florida.  “I have a nephew up there in the Bay Area.  His name is Tom too.  He’s from San Diego.  He sure has gotten into them politics and economics since moving up there.”  I laughed a little, then mentioned I’d been watching all of the civil unrest and violence in the protests back home in Berkeley.  Then Chinga was distracted by a Santa man cruising his brightly decorated motorcycle with lights strung all around it playing Jingle Bells as he motored past.  Silly monkey. 
Over a dinner of Danish meatballs and sausages and sauerkraut, two older gentlemen behind me were chatting over wine.  “I’ve been in Hawaii for the last three weeks, you know.” says one.  “Who’s the girl?” asked the other.  I nearly choked on my iced tea from laughing.  They continued to talk about long lives well lived, and the lessons they’d learned.  “I remember raising a baby in an office when we started our own business.  Everyone said we were doing everything wrong, but we did alright.  But none of that matters anymore.”  As they got up to leave, one leaning heavily on his cane, they spoke to the pretty Latina women in the next booth.  “How ya doing?  Hey, we’re gonna go out dancing or something, want to join us?  You’re not married or anything are ya?”  to which they smiled and replied that they were.  As he stumbled out the door, he says “I tried, but I couldn’t get a date with em!”
I drove the dark highway back to the sleepy beach town where I was staying.  I texted Roger and said I was too tired to walk along the marina that night, but there was the biggest tree made of lights I’d ever seen at the end, some distance away and it was calling to me.  I began the long stroll across the quiet, desolate pier.  The lights were dim, the weathered boards creaked beneath my feet.  Every so often the wind carried a noise toward me and I’d see a lone fisherman or a couple strolling under the moon’s holy light. 

That’s when I met Juan.  I saw him hurry past me towards the tree.  A few minutes later he scurried back, but crossed over to me to ask the time as I was taking pictures of a large red tinsel star hanging from a foggy lamp post.  My natural instincts made me hide my phone and give a vague answer while stepping back from this young man in jeans, a hat and a hoodie. 

He then said; "I saw you walking, I just wanted to come and wish you a Merry Christmas.  I came from church tonight down the street, and then I came here to see that beautiful tree. As I passed you, I felt your lovely soul breathing.  I wanted to wish you a peaceful night, and share my blessings.  Tomorrow when I go off to my job, where I will work hard because that’s how I was raised, I'm going to carry you in my heart." My heart searched his dark eyes, trying to believe him.  All I could say was “thank you, Merry Christmas.”  He bent and kissed my hand, hugged me, and disappeared into the night. 

I was struggling with my leg as I limped toward the tree, needing to see it close.  I wasn’t going to let my ongoing pain keep me from this magical sight.  And then I was there.  It was a tower of lights reaching up into the sky, as far as I could see.  I watched the gulls flap their wings against the stars.  The ocean threw itself to the sand beneath me, the pier swaying against the power of the waves.

As I ambled away from it, a bright-eyed woman rushed past, camera in hand, asking me “Isn’t it the most wonderful tree in the whole world?” with the excitement of a young girl in search of sugarplums in her voice.

In the spirit of serendipity, this just floated through my inbox as I grasped at an ending to this ramble; “Without answers there really are no questions.  You have to wonder which ever came first.  The same goes for love.  It is really everywhere and nowhere, and anywhere you want it to be.”

Therein lies the spirit, tucked inside of the illusion.  And that’s the magic of Christmas.

Looking back at the road rushing under my wheels, I don’t know where I’m running now, I’m just running on…
© Kymberlie Ingalls, December 12, 2014                     *                  Lyrics:  Running On Empty / Jackson Browne

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