Last week when I was addressing Christmas cards, I came across so many old names. A co-worker from Seattle. A former neighbor. Friends of my parents. My ex-step-mother-in-law’s parents. So many names. With each one, I weighed what I might say to them if I saw them again and whether I wanted to use one of the specially bought envelopes from my somewhat small pile — not to mention one of my stamps, the price of which makes me feel like my Depression-era grandmother. In short, I weighed the price of trying to connect with someone I may never see again.
And then, of course, I felt shitty. Because each of these people had at some point been important to me. That co-worker made me laugh hard through a job that was sometimes tedious. The ex-step-parents were very sweet and dear to my kids as babies. The neighbor was helpful and supportive. Why wouldn’t I, why shouldn‘t I (re)connect with each of them? And why do we let ourselves get so spread out – so that we’re cross countries and continents? Even among those to whom the price of the envelope and stamp were a given, those who make my heart warm immediately when I think of them – even among them there are many who I may not see again.
Sigh. I cursed my address book for bringing me such sadness, such a sense of loss and disconnection.
Last night we were about ready to heat up our canned soup and snuggle down to watch It’s a Wonderful Life when the doorbell rang. It was our friends from up the alley who we’ve known since the kids were little. They caroled us with three songs in perfect pitch and a bit of harmony. Big smiles all around. A tin of cookies shared. Hearty greetings for the holiday and promises – which will be kept – to see each other soon.
There was a bag of sweet and spicy pecans and three jars of preserves – grape jelly, apricot-habanero jelly, and apple butter, and then wrapped in a tea towel, a giant, glorious handmade pannetone.
More than an hour later – after the Bailey Savings & Loan had been nearly lost twice and was on the brink of disaster yet again – George Bailey hovering on a snowy bridge peering down into the black, wild river – the doorbell rang again. It was Kristin from down the street bearing amazing bounty that she and her partner Kat had made. My small bag of molasses cookies and polenta cookies looked woefully plain next to the bag of sweet and spicy pecans, the three jars of preserves – grape jelly, apricot-habanero jelly, and apple butter.
Then Kristin handed me a bundle wrapped in a tea towel. It was a giant, glorious home baked pannetone. We’d received one of these beauties, an Italian Christmas bread, last year, but I had given no thought to the notion that one could come again. It’s a big task to make one; I’ve looked at recipes and always decided that the vast amount of butter and the various specialty ingredients, including candied fruits and a paper wrapper was just more than I had in me. So at the sight of this one in Kristin’s outstretched hands and the thought of Kat stirring and kneading and baking this with us in mind, I cried.
Standing there, with my dear friend in front of me, the bread between us, I could hear George talking to Clarence, his angel. The kids were curled up on the sofa entranced. The dishes (my dishwasher broke over a month ago and I get terribly behind with the stacks) were mounded on the counter. The dog wanted out and in and out and in and out in her demented way. The cat was himself: insouciant. I hugged Kristin goodnight and wished them a Merry Christmas, then returned to see what a wonderful life George would have.
This morning, I lay in bed and listened to the kids’ soft waking. I watched the snow, seeing that it was serious. And I thought of a book that we got a few years back, The Three Questions by John Muth. In it a boy asks, “When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?” The answers become apparent by story’s end: The most important is now. The most important one are those with you. The most important thing to do is to do good for those standing at your side.
These dear friends and neighbors, who live so close and are literally at my side, reminded me of these questions. I have loved each person in my address book, and I continue to do so from afar. But here and now these are the people to whom I give and from whom I am blessed to receive. Such tidings. Such joy. Deep gifts, indeed.