It's Christmas morning and for the first time in a long time I am not with my family. I woke up this morning with a dog on one side of me and a cat on the other side of me, (perhaps a personal joke from my Higher Power illustrating that I am not really alone) but no tree, no presents, no carols, no festive breakfast, and no drama. Admittedly I kind of miss all the holiday hoopla. The planning and arranging leading up to this day has always been wrought with drama, and even this year the build up has been difficult. But I'm staying home this year and doing what I need to do, I'm trying to hold steady to a personal idea of Christmas - an idea that what I bring to the table is more important than what I take from it - though the table may not even be where I thought it was.
My friend Frankie is in the last stages of cancer, and she was moved yesterday from an inpatient hospice facility at a hospital downtown to a smaller, longer-term hospice residence across town from me. I went to see her last night and she was pretty much incoherent. She has been heavily medicated for weeks now because of the extreme pain, but yesterday she was medicated even more than usual to make her transfer less traumatic. Frankie hasn't been able to get out of bed for a few weeks and she gets confused easily.
I tried talking with her a little but she was having difficulty understanding me. I gave her a few sips of apple juice, held her hand, and sat with her a while. The new facility is actually very nice. She's in a rather pretty and small private room on the sixteenth floor with a big window facing west - a big unobstructed patch of sky - perfect for viewing sunsets. I put a few things around the room so that she might feel more at home when she woke up. Then I walked down Third Avenue about ten blocks and took the 86th street bus home through the park. There were crowds of last minute shoppers juggling bags and running into stores. I feel like I'm missing out this year - like something's passing me by, but it's really OK.
I walked Zeke down by the river early this morning. The frigid wind whipped around us as we walked the narrow paths that have been shoveled through the now crusty and hardened snow. I will treat myself to a quiet Christmas breakfast and then make my way back across town to check on Frankie to see if she's comfortable and getting settled in.
I've felt more than a little disappointed these past few weeks - treading new territory, unsupported - the holiday spirit has completely evaded me; no family plans, no trips, no church home, no holiday parties, no special someone to shop for - self pity is a default setting for me in the best of times, when I'm in an emotionally challenging place, and especially during the holidays, these settings have a tendency to get rigidly set and magnified.
If I take a few steps back, breathe, and look at the bigger picture, I'm able to see that this year, rather than being invested in giving or getting the grooviest gifts, I'm putting some packages under a big invisible Christmas tree - a tree of good conscience and right action, a karma tree, or since Frankie's been a practicing Buddhist for years, a bodhi tree.
This morning I'm opening a gift of perspective. As I'm unwrapping it I can see more clearly what it is to be blessed. It is truly a gift to be able to show up for someone who needs me, and though this isn't the way I would have chosen to spend Christmas, I realize that there is a greater Power and a deeper reason for me to examine the vital Christmas message that it is better to give than to receive.
Peace on earth.