A slow walk, I was huffing and breathing as the sounds of Judy Garland reached my ears. She started to sing, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas. Let your heart be light."
The sun was setting. It was falling beneath a hill, just trying so anxiously to keep its head up past 5:30pm. Two silhouettes tumbled over the hill. I never would have noticed them if I hadn’t slowed down enough to walk and look around. It was a guy and girl. He was sitting in a motorized wheelchair and she was sitting in his lap. A fleece blanket was wrapped around her and that guy was holding her so tightly as if tell the world, “I know what I have and I am holding it tightly.”
The two barreled down the hill. They were laughing wildly and I couldn’t hear the words coming out from their mouths. As I walked past them, they both looked at me. They paused their laughter and looked at me in the eyes-- as if they were both saying, “Come into our moment. There is room for you, too.”
The girl was grinning ear-to-ear and I bet she had her father’s smile. The guy’s mouth was agape. He was missing two front teeth and the rest of them were gold. Together, they went on laughing and rolling down the hill in their motorized wheelchair.
I watched them go on their way as the words continued to play in my ears, “from now on, our troubles will be miles away...”
I thought about the two of them the whole way home.
I thought about how I could have missed that moment-- that beautiful and rare moment when you get to witness two people loving each other so fluidly. I thought about how perfect it was and I am still wondering: did they know how perfect it was? Do we know a perfect moment when we have it in our hands? No crying. No fighting. No broken dishes. Just laughter and the chance to be young and in love.
These are the things I miss when I am busy.
I say I want to be "less busy" but I forget that "less busy" is something you must train yourself to be. I think, these are the things I don’t see when I am trying just so hard to reach the next best thing. These are all the reasons why November shows up and I don’t know how to handle her. I don’t know how to handle her pauses. Her hopes that I’ll show gratitude. Her patience towards me when I want to keep hustling and she’s just fine to stand in the corner-- letting me rip the days of her off the calendar-- and only say once in all her 31 days, “You’re going to miss me when I am gone. I am the introduction to your most favorite season. And you’re going to miss me if you don’t look up, girl. Looking up is the whole point.”
Looking up is the whole point to this time of year.
Judy kept singing as I walked up the hill, sat on my porch and waited for the moon to hang and make the night jealous. I kept hitting repeat on that song-- my favorite Christmas ballad-- just so I could hear those two lines sung over and over again, “Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow.”
There it is, I think to myself, as if I can place a finger down on how this season makes me feel: it makes me feel hopeful. It makes me feel like the world is okay. And humanity is working somehow. And yet, I am sad. I am sad because all the songs are saying this should be the happiest time of the year. And yet, life didn’t get perfect just because November came. And the songs that trace the radio always seem to remind me: people pass away. Life goes too quick. People pass away and they stop calling you to ask if you’ve noticed the lights yet this year.
I want to live in a world where we always remember to go and see the lights.
It’s as if the air gets colder and we start saying things we never thought to say when the sunscreen was out– "I miss you. And I wish you were here. And why can’t you just be here? It’s not fair. It makes no sense. Are you doing ok? I hope you are doing ok. Life is fine. It’s good, even. But I don’t miss you any less."
There is someone I still want to call up and say, “Listen, I don’t even care where you are. It could be ten thousand miles away from me and I’d be okay with that, as long as I could still call you from time to time and hear your voice. I just want to hear you tell me you’ve been okay this whole time. Tell me dying didn't hurt you. Tell me you’ve been laughing and you’ve been okay and yes, you managed to find some time to see the lights.”
Truth told: I wanted to started this whole piece by writing, “This is a piece about nothing and everything-- all at the same time.” That is just how I feel about life these days.
I mean, there are moments when we swear we have everything we want. We are happy. We are invincible. We are seeing things so clearly. And then there are moments when we realize we are nothing. We are small-- just flecks. And this whole thing passes us by so quickly. This whole thing slips from our fingers and we lose people before we are ready to let them go. We shake our fists at a God who makes us attend funerals for the people who made us feel like the only thing spinning in their orbit. And then we move on. Because there’s really nothing more we can do but go on living like time would be up for us too some day.
This piece is about everything and nothing at all.
It’s as much about that as it is about a night that happened a few weeks ago. It was me and two friends. The coffee shop with the pretty orange stools lined up by the ceiling-high windows closed at ten and we were still talking. The night was still young for us.
We picked up our bags, shoveled laptops into their cases, and walked to a bar across the street. It was the day I got a package in the mail full of two-dozen books. My book. Printed. Bound. “Galley proofs,” as they call them in the industry.
“This girl has a book,” my friend announced to the bartender as he took our order. “It’s a real book and it’ll be out in March!”
The bartender just looked as us strangely while my friend held the book high in the air and I just wanted to whisper, “I wrote that thing. He’s holding all the proof in my little world that I was capable of getting my heart out of my chest long enough to wrestle it down to a page.”
The bartender looked at us as though he thought life was going to disappoint us more eventually. For now, we were untouchable. I ordered a margarita. We split queso dip. And somehow, someway, I just started reading the book aloud. A few sentences. Then a few pages. We were laughing. We were crying. My voice was trembling. And one point, one of the boys paused and looked at me from across the table with tears in his eyes.
“It’s only cold air and songs,” he told me. “Those are the only things that make feel the way your words do.” Cold air and songs. I thought, that is the loveliest compliment I’ve ever heard.
“We’re going to remember this,” he said, snapping the somber moment in two. He motioned us all to take our drinks and hold them high to the air. “Years from now, I know I won’t remember everything but I am going to remember this night. I am always going to remember being here.”
We clinked our glasses together. If I had a photographic memory I would have snapped, snapped and chosen to keep that pile of seconds forever.
You’re right, I thought in my head as we set the glasses down on the table. You’re right, I thought again as I opened my car door and got inside just a few minutes later, waiting for the heat to trickle into the Camry.
You’re right, I will remember this too. I’ll remember that our phones didn’t sit on the table. We weren’t checking tweets. We were just completely here in a world that makes me feel us feel like we always need to be somewhere else. We were just as we are-- young, and hopeless, and hopeful and here.
And it's true-- another season will come through. And we’ll get a little older. Some of us will make it. Some of us won’t. There will be more celebrations. There will be more funerals. There will be more parties, and black tights, and clinking glasses. They’ll be more gold and people who make us feel like falling in love and chunky wool sweaters. We’ll claim to be a little busier. We’ll promise to get a little slower.
Life will keep unraveling. It’ll keep coming. But, for now, I like to think we have it good. It feels good right now, like that moment when you are sitting in an empty coffee shop on a Thursday night and someone comes and opens their computer right beside you. And suddenly your shoulders relax and you breathe out and you feel less alone because they showed up.
That's just how it feels to me. It might not be perfect. It might never be perfect. But it’s good and we’re here. And it makes me feel like I should call someone up tonight. I should call someone up tonight and ask them before it’s too late: “Hey, have you gotten a chance to see the lights this year?”