Former columnist for the Los Angeles Post Examiner, the Baltimore Post Examiner, and Gatehouse News Service

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

I Finally Flew from Montgomery




Nerve-wracking and awesome.  Thanks to Fred for inviting me on stage at his solo gig...quite a memory for us.  Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Nativity and Sandy Hook

Nativity of Christ
I have been struggling to come to grips with, much less write about, the Sandy Hook school tragedy. Tears stand at the ready at a mere mention of small children, and I send my own middle-schooler off with a twinge of trepidation.  He gets more hugging at the door, more texts after school, asking him to come home sooner, rather than later.

To the left is our family nativity display, which we have had for many years. I started collecting the pieces when my first two sons, now in their twenties, were small, and we had very little extra money. Each year I looked forward to the following Christmas, when I could add animals, or the wise men, or a few trees. But that first year it started with just Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph. In the early years the Holy Family looked like us; just a roof over their heads, and  the three of them only -- mother, father, and child.

Through the years these porcelain figurines in their manger have weathered life with us at Christmas time.  They have hosted plastic army men when the boys were little; they have hidden crayons, or matchbox cars, or sticks of gum, standing frozen in their tableau. The boys, no matter where they are in their lives and in the world, gather in December to unwrap the figurines, placing them wherever they'd like. (When my youngest son was little, he proudly showed my that Baby Jesus could balance on the manger's roof.) We have added to the scene over the years, and their manger received an upgrade five or so years ago, so they are like us -- their world has gotten more crowded, busier, more full of stuff.  Each year after Christmas they are wrapped in newspaper -- sometimes the sports pages, sometimes the Metro section, and I feel that they are absorbing the sadnesses and tribulations of the year past, as they are carefully put away and stored back in the basement. If we had a fire, that basket would be my one thing to save.

This year, our hearts were heavy as we put the beloved figurines in their places. I started fighting back tears as I looked to my downcast husband to say a prayer with all of us there -- I knew the prayer would be heartbreaking. I looked at the little baby in his stone manger, so innocent, still far away from the violent ending he would face.  Ending is the wrong word, though; fulfillment is a better one.  He was going home, and he always knew it. His earthly life was just temporary, and those left mourning would be reunited with him in no time at all, when compared with eternity.

It would seem that the harder things get in life, the more irrelevant, even silly, a few pieces of mass-produced porcelain would be.  How can they help?  They don't reflect the reality of our stressful, busy lives, there in their old-fashioned manger.  And yet I know God is life's reality because the Nativity scene's meaning keeps increasing, keeps drawing us in, the sadder and harder things get.  Something in our souls is answering a call when we move closer -- our Home is not here.  We are passing by, raising children, helping others, looking for meaning.  And then we fly away, alone, for the home that has many open doors and no end to joy. 

You are home, little ones and brave adults. And the sadness of your loved ones is a precursor to the great joy of a coming reunion -- a reunion that never ends.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Elf on a Shelf

This is my son James' old elf-on-a-shelf, named Plaxo. One morning when James was eight years old Plaxo appeared at his bedside, the result of James' fervent prayers for an elf of his own. All his friends had an elf, James fretted over cereal and juice, before Plaxo came. Wasn't he good enough to be wanted by an elf , too? Before I knew it I was at the mall, desperately grabbing one of the last two elves on the shelf in the Hallmark store. (Superior marketing, elf people!)

My husband and I were initially determined not to participate in the elf-on-a-shelf fad. It was another duty at Christmas, another piece of commercial pageantry that, while magical for the kids, was work for mom and dad (mom).  The elf moves around the house when the child is not looking, and depending on the type of family he lands in, (read: how creative, rich or blessed with free time that family is) sometimes brings small treats, candy, or presents, even.  The child  must never touch him, though, or the magic is broken - James was afraid Plaxo would explode if touched. Our elf did not bring treats or gifts. He wrote notes.

Plaxo moved in, and was immediately the source of great fun. When James woke up in the morning, he would scurry to find out where Plaxo had hidden the night before. In the Christmas tree?  In a closet?  In the mailbox? Tucked under Plaxo's arm would be a scrolled up note, in which he described the elf-land that he came from.  He also wanted to know things about James: did he like school? Who was his favorite friend? What were his big brothers like? Where did he go every day? ("School, silly!" James wrote back gleefully, placing the note near Plaxo, careful not to touch him.)

At night, before I went to bed, I would write Plaxo's notes.  I used a swirly handwriting, and "Plaxo" had a very fancy signature. I must have written eighty or so notes, in the next few years. He also had his own lexicon: he called pets "beasts," he called hockey "stick games" he called candy "swizzles." He loved everything about James, and he told him so.  He watched him sleep, and saw what a kind boy he was. Plaxo went to Maryland one year with our family for Christmas, packed into a shoebox James had covered with sparkles and glitter.  His blanket was a washcloth, his pillow a cotton ball.

One year, James didn't go look for Plaxo in December.  I asked about him, feeling tentative, and sad.  After several years of friendship and mutual admiration, James was on to Plaxo. He smiled at me. "You are Plaxo, right?" he said. I smiled back, nodding. "I loved our letters," I sighed. James laughed. "I told you so many things you already knew!" Not at all, I thought.

I love Plaxo. I still take him out every year, and he has a place of honor this year on the mantel. He is so much more than a suit of red felt and a smiling face of molded pastic. He allowed me to experience what it was like not to be just that wonderful kid's mother -- but also, his friend.