Bold sea. Slashing rain. Wood for the fire. Awake suddenly in the night, listening to the wind playing the rain gutters like a wind instrument — how apt — and, out front, the strings of Christmas lights drawing eager small pandemonium patterns as they tug against their anchors.
Presents left to wrap, scraps to buy — and the tree, rich red and blue lights catching on the metal-glass hanging bulbs, sits downstairs like an unexpected guest who’s hunkered down and now plans to stay for days. Rain shooting like bullets, the wind thudding like body blows outside the house, testing, and it combines, as always, to create a strange unease. Like the sound of someone passing on the street and testing the knob, just in case the door might be unlocked.
Some years there’s snow, fine and quietening snow, sifting down all over, but not now.
Not this year — no easy shortcuts here. This year the ground is like swamp, one day’s rain followed by two days more. The outdoor lights look brassy and hard without the snow, like houses with too much makeup on.
You have to push instead towards Christmas with something like trust, unable to simply be transported there by the white outdoors.
What I wouldn’t give right now to see a brook’s small falls after a hard freeze, the branchlets wrapped in rolls of smooth ice — just listening to the sound the water makes, the way it flutes musically up from out of sight and curves under ice again.
No chance of that now. So push one foot in front of the other, waiting for some kind of Christmas spark. Afraid, constantly, that, this time, it might not come.
When you’re really young, you are afraid of the unknown.
Older is different: you already know some of the things to fear.
Eventually you can find fears in something as familiar the mirror. Sometimes, late at night, you can look at your own eyes and wonder
if you can even trust the person behind them. Ever done that? Ever taken that hard look and asked, “And who is this I’m looking at? Who can he be?”
Trace a line along your own 2 a.m. skin and see how unfamiliar it seems. Meet yourself on the street — would you trust him? Or her? Would you?
But I’m moving the wrong way here, down the wrong rabbit hole. Where are the turkeys, the steaming ham, the mincemeat? Carols and candy? Hale-fellow-well-met?
Shouldn’t it be friends and family and wonder and Christmas?
Christmas: what tender ammunition that always is. The way it’s tamped down tight like powder, the expectations and the weight of Christmases past piled up like rocks in a cart, and I think, other people must not feel like this — or if they do, they hide it far better than I do. A welter, a conflict of emotions.
If you buy chestnuts to roast, you score them first with a knife, so that the steam inside won’t burst the leathery brown shells. That’s just sensible.
But that uniquely chestnut smell, mixed with the slight charcoal char, is magic, so the combination of care and chance has its payoff.
Small risks worth taking.
Small trusts worth closing your eyes and throwing yourself towards.
You get to do a bunch of things in your life — many of them, you only get to do once. But we’re decidedly poor at learning that.
You can spend a lot of time trying to reproduce things, trying to make the stars align in exactly the right way.
And we’re fools for trying to do that, instead of revelling in the
next wonder you’ve been handed. Because this is a world of wonders, large and small — and we should make the most of each one.
What am I saying? Simple. Do what I often can’t, and let go.
Look at your hands and accept the truth — they can never make perfect, no matter how hard you try.
But those hands can hold onto the things that count.
Because those things are all around you, if you’re ready to look and to listen.
The snow isn’t here, but how brightly those brassy lights shine, jumping right back up at you from the long-running puddles along the curb.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.