Bigger Than the Tree

I’ve been waiting on something bigger than Christmas my whole life.

The sadness of the ending of a childhood Christmas–Santa long gone, school break zooming to an end–gave way to a post-Christmas depression for Adult Me: Christmas music silent, Christmas movies disappearing, the season of goodwill giving way to just…cold. The tree with no presents underneath became a burden, holding boxes of ornaments to pack up, the removal of each of them signalling the end of my favourite season.

A barren winter without twinkling lights and the promise of more on the horizon is perfect fodder for depressive tendencies to kick in, and I’ve battled them every year. Then, last year, instead of enduring that winter, we hopped on a plane and headed toward summer, and that move across the world–while allowing me to avoid climactically-generated blues–brought its own adjustments and breakdowns before joy and familiarity arrived.

This year is different.

The Sis said it in a message, how as an adult she’s always felt different about Christmas ending than she did as a child, and the word she used was one unfathomable to me before this past Monday night: relief. But this year I felt it too, the relief of Santa pulled off for another year, of happy children living still in the magic of it all, of a turkey cooked well and family gathered without bloodshed. And, not for nothing, relief at our family of four surviving yet another cross-country trip…and facing one more in the opposite direction. In another place that has become, also, home.

This Christmas night, a night that has always felt unbearably piercing to me in its comparison to the one before–the anticipation of Christmas Eve–I stepped onto our Atlanta porch and gazed at the twinkling lights, felt the icy air. My bare feet groaned against the cold of the wood beneath them, and I yearned: not for Christmas to swing right back around again, but for the warmth of another hemisphere, the longer days and the beaches and pools and summer break awaiting us. My feet firmly on the ground here while another place pulls me back.

And this being between two places, it’s inconvenient and uncomfortable and at times emotionally turbulent but it’s also this: a gift. A gift in the abundance it reveals us to have, family in one place and friends who are like that in another, but gift also in that it reveals, as all good gifts do, a deeper truth: that this yearning, this split way of living, this ache that never abates, is a sign of more. Of what is bigger than Christmas even as Christmas is what brings it, of what is bigger than twinkling lights and adorned trees.

Of what is bigger than unadorned trees, the limbs that are bound into crossbeams that shadow over a hill named Death. Of what is bigger than death and all the blows it brings before it comes. Because it’s just this year that I’m realising how Advent is not really a waiting, but an arrival. See, I’d always thought it was about me. Typical. But this year, from both sides of the world, I’ve known a love that chases me across the globe, that reveals itself in glimpses: the bi-continental blessings of those who show up for me, for my family. The army of people we never would have known without our move, without our challenges. I’d always wanted to dance through life, but now I’m to the part where I find out all I would have missed.

The old proverb goes, “God is not a kindly old uncle, he is an earthquake,” and I wonder if the dancers know him only as uncle. If the power of the earthquake is only met through struggle. An earthquake that is love that resettles families across the world and brings them back again, that shows up in every hello and goodbye and arrival and departure. That is, always, an advent.

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