Time is a trickster. It acts unshakable, yet it bends and hovers and does loop-de-loops, curling back on itself. As a rule, I try to savor the present and look forward to the future in a logical, timely, sequential way. Sometimes, though, the past surges over me and bogs me down.
Jonathan and I have been frantically battling 20 years of accumulated clutter (Marie Kondo – help!) before all 14 of our beloved family (all those babies!) fill the already-crowded spaces of our home. You’re probably familiar with that pressure to create holiday magic? to make the season bright? Between that and work and bills and emails and broken things that need fixing and the phone call that took over an hour and meal prep and that thing you said you’d do before tomorrow…it’s terribly easy to feel like a hamster on a wheel, sprinting and getting nowhere near a season bright, just the same old cloudy routine.
As years accumulate behind me, another obstacle deters my progress towards the happy holidays. Icons of the season are weighted with associations, and I slip away into Christmases past – my children, like little electrons, bouncing off the walls in anticipation, the all-nighters with Jonathan as we stuff stockings and finalize the dazzle of Santa’s touch around the Christmas tree. Then I go further back to my own child self at Christmastime – scanning the TV Guide to make sure we won’t miss The Grinch, Mom’s Brunswick stew on Christmas Eve, Grandpa’s eyebrow-raising rendition of the We Three Kings Balthazar verse (sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying!), stockings overflowing on Christmas morning, Dad’s pancakes for breakfast, the TREE twinkling up to the ceiling, and Christmas music as a constant soundtrack. Memories fill the heart with happiness...but sometimes not.
I was only subliminally aware of the potpourri of the past dancing in my head when Jonathan streamed some Christmas classics on our Bluetooth speaker last night. Nat King Cole crooned Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…and I was transported back decades, in front of my parents’ fireplace, Georgia fatwood crackling under the logs, Dad sipping a hot buttered rum, Mom bustling in the kitchen. I am carefree, comfort-drenched, at home. All of a sudden I was sobbing at my current day kitchen counter, missing them, missing home, missing all the days gone by.
It’s no wonder people get sad this time of year. Not only are we submerged in darkness for lengthy periods of time, we are submerged in memories and expectations as we try to cultivate that lightness, to share it, or just hold on to it for ourselves. Holiday preambles are a perfect stew of complex emotions – joy, nostalgia, elation, grief, gratitude, regret.
Time is a relentless life companion, never stops, never slows; no calamitous or triumphant moment causes even a hiccup in time’s stride, though that doesn’t stop it from using our emotions as a playground. But we can’t live without time, and who would want to be robbed of times past? Perhaps there is comfort in time’s dependable, intrepid march forward. So I take a deep breath, make myself a cup of tea, let sorrow wash over me and recede. I will be grateful for the rich memories time has given to me, and hopeful for what time still has in store, so many things I can’t even dream of yet.
Wishing you warmth and comfort this holiday season, and may time's tricks be good ones.
Robin Clifford Wood is an award-winning author, poet, and writing teacher. She lives in central Maine with her husband, loves to be outdoors, and enjoys ever-expanding horizons through her children, grandchildren, and granddogs.