The Last Christmas Card

January 7, 2019

Christmas 2018 was nearly two weeks ago, we’ve pretty much recovered from it. Then Friday we got the card, from Sandy’s young niece Sarah and her husband John. It was one of those cards you can create yourself, with a beautiful photo of the couple holding their two little boys.

It’s been more than a year since we saw them, maybe close to two. They got married young and lived in Nashville for a few years, John working on construction jobs and Sarah studying to become a midwife. A year or so ago they bought property, something like 10 acres, in Cumberland City, along the Cumberland River, between Nashville and Clarksville, which sits on the Tennessee-Kentucky state line and is known mainly for Fort Campbell, home of the Army’s famed 101st Airborne Division.

1546792440420blob7691990934453700341.jpg The suburbs turn rural quickly up that way. It’s country, and I mean country. John built a “tiny house” on the lot. Their life has included some hectic moments. Both are working at their own businesses, John drives long distances for work projects. Their two boys are a handful.

Yet Sarah’s message was brilliantly happy: “We miss being close to friends and family, but we love being out in the country. We’re excited to move into a loft apartment in our pole barn in the next couple of months. We love having company! So please do come see us!”

The card, somehow, freed me from my recent run of dark moods and bellyaching. I felt like jumping in the car and driving the 700 miles to drop in on them. Not possible right now, with everything we’ve got going on.

Their message conveyed a sense of pure exhilaration. It wasn’t Pollyanna-carefree/Merry Christmas/ho-ho-ho. It told me something about them, about how they go about their lives. Yet without Google Maps I couldn’t tell you how to find Cumberland City.

As I work at my hit-or-miss contacts with family, the nieces and nephews usually get left out. They’re all over the country, the way families scatter. Siblings and cousins, and then their kids, grow up and move away. The same goes for friends, neighbors. The Christmas card habit brings them back, if just in a flash of color and good wishes. It also brings those fundraising appeals, for cancer research, victims of homelessness, poverty. They’re mass-produced, sure, but they remind us that the world is complicated, that people are hurting.

We could pause our breakneck schedules and extend a hand, over time and distances. Or at least think about it. The rush of time and the onslaught of everyday life get in the way.

Then what we do depends on how we choose to be.  Do I wake up preoccupied, obsessed, beaten down, by what feels like a grind of annoying chores and irritating responsibilities? Do I scramble through each day on an ironclad schedule of thinking about all the terrible things that could happen if I forget to do something I think I absolutely have to do?

That takes you only one place: cluelessness about others.

The solemnity and serenity of Christmas is, each year, supposed to be the antidote for all that. But let’s face it, we can take some lessons over and over that never register. The magic fades. The decorations are taken down, the gifts go in the closet. We’re back where we started: cataloguing self-imposed obligations instead of choices.

So how do we want to be? The way we hope others see us.  Do we need to toss everything and buy some land in rural Tennessee and live in a tiny house? Sounds tempting. Maybe someday.

Short of that—look at things the way they are, recognize what’s good and true. Then turn to the things we have to do—they get done, eventually. If storms are coming, let them come—they’ll be over sooner. Think like Sarah and John. Welcome visitors.

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