White Noise

It was a sound that should not have been there.

I arrived at work about the same time as usual, unpacked my things, sat in my chair, and prepared for the day ahead. It was quiet on the far end of the hall where my office is in the mental health center. Quiet, still, and until folks from the parallel hallway start to go back and forth to the bathroom or the ice machine or medical records, mostly devoid of people at that time of day.

It took me by surprise. You might say it startled me.

Dr. B had died less than a week before, just ten days after leaving us for another job that he was very much looking forward to. He had planned to live in a house by the lake, have his wife and dogs come to stay with him while he worked, and enjoy the holidays with his family. I had told him goodbye when he left, carting the last of his office furnishings out to the Prius in preparation for the journey back to Georgia. I had told him goodbye, but not goodbye.

Yes, there was no mistaking it. That low, tuneless drone in the hallway. It was there, all right, but why? It should not have been. He was not here, after all. Or was he? I felt a little involuntary shiver go up my spine.

“Stop it,” I heard someone that sounded suspiciously like me tell me. “Get up and see where it’s coming from.”

Dr. B came in each morning, backpack or satchel or bag of some sort with food, golf clothes or other such items in tow and plopped them on the desk. He then immediately retrieved his white noise maker, a little off-white, round, plastic disk that was plugged into the wall inside  his office but that lived outside in the hallway, one door over from my office, every day. It happily provided the screening soundtrack for his day, and by extension for mine on the days I worked in that office. He set it outside the door, less than a dozen feet from mine, and the day began.

I heard that noise maker this particular morning, clear as day.

I thought of him, and of us, and of the fleeting nature of working relationships, and of life.

I got up, poked my head out into the hallway and halfway expected him to be standing there, scowling at me.

Then I saw it. The little off-white box was  outside the door, whirring away as it always had. Not outside, his door, but the door of a new telepsychiatrist I had hired just before Dr. B’s death, up the hall to the right.

I stopped, smiled to myself, and turned to sit back down.

Holiday seasons tend to bring all sorts of reminders to the forefront for us. Sights, sounds, and smells reactivate thoughts and feelings and emotions that we thought were long-since dead and buried. Memories, both good and bad, come flooding back. We are sometimes overwhelmed at how fresh and raw the emotions are as they wash over us like a cold winter rain. We feel them, we breathe them in, we dance with them. They take us over for that brief time that is memory, that is re-experiencing.

Then, just as the visible vapor that is our breath on a cold shopping day, they swirl and fade away, as quickly as they came.

Holidays of old, partners, children, spouses, teachers, work associates- we know then that they are really gone. That we will never see them, speak with them, give them gifts, argue with them, make up with them, or look for their return again.

Of course, that does not mean that we will  ever stop caring about them, remembering them, smiling at the thought of them, or loving them.

That will never change, no matter how many holidays come and go.

They will always be a part of our memories, just as we are all, now, a part of the future memories of those we cherish.

Happy new year, dear readers.

Make this the best year ever.

 

Feliz NaviDad

I was sitting in Starbucks, downing an orange juice and water while checking my email and thinking about the day to come.

He walked in, an acquaintance from the past, from that part of my life that was full of kids and Nutcracker rehearsal and makeup and costumes and Happy Meals and hours spent out in the house watching dress rehearsals. It was a good time, a time that revolved around the kids and their activities. Any parent will know exactly what I mean. A frantic, chaotic, bustling, crazy time that bleeds into holiday time until the boundary between one and the other is no longer distinguishable.

He has worked tech at the theater for many years, in the back of the  house, on the big board, or backstage, or elsewhere in the cavernous building doing things that the folks who make a theater hum in the background, out of the spotlight, do.

We exchanged pleasantries. How’s the family? Kids?

All successful, yes, in Spartanburg and Chattanooga and Denver, thanks for asking.

Upcoming holiday? What show are you doing now? Oh, yes, A Christmas Carol, then another Nutcracker, and of course The Roar of Love in the Bell and the…

So many shows, so much work, so much fun for those who perform and for those of us who have watched the final product over the years.

We talked. I sipped. He waited for his order at the bar.

And then he asked me a question that I was not prepared for.

“And have you found happiness for yourself yet?”

It took me aback. It really did.

Have I?

My OJ-fueled mind, clicking along quite well now that glucose levels were high and attention was sharp, had to do a double take. Had to really think about this question that had no ready, reflexive answer.

Have I?

“Yes, yes I have,” I answered after a split-second hesitation that was more a product of surprise than lack of an answer.

“Yes, thanks. I am happy.”

“Good,” he answered. “I’m glad.” Smiling. Turning to get his coffee from the barista.

“Good to see you.”

“Nice to see you again, too.”

“Have a good Christmas.”

“You, too.”

What a good feeling at this time of the year, so filled with laughter and light and joy.

Yes, I am happy.

I hope, dear readers, that you are too.

Merry Christmas.

 

The Big Box

Sometimes traditions get started in the most weird and mundane ways.

The year was 1994. Our family needed pillows.

Yes, I said pillows.

Now, how sexy is a Christmas present of pillows? Like, not. Right?

Well, at that time we also did not have what you might call an extreme excess of cash. The head of the household at that time (I fantasized that this was my role, but of course I have long since learned both the truth and the error of my ways) decided to do something out of the ordinary to meet the needs of his fledgling family as well as to spice up Christmas morning. He (I) went out and bought a passel (yes, that is a word-Google it) of pillows, found a very large box that would hold said passel, and then wrapped the whole thing in jolly, gay, Christmas wrapping paper. (Georgia, the state we lived in at the time, did indeed allow gay wrapping paper, in case you were wondering) I then proceeded to situate the large gaily wrapped box beside the Christmas tree ( it was much too large to put under the tree). I then did not do one very strategic thing. I did not put a name on the box.

Mwa ha ha.

The Legend of The Big Box was born.

As Christmas eve approached, the members of my family saw the large intruder and wondered why it was there, who had brought in and what it contained. They picked it up (it was heavy in a fluffy sort of way, as you can imagine), turned it every which way, shook it and tried to guess what it was and who it was for. I was mum. I just said that all would be revealed on Christmas morning.

When the appointed hour finally came, all the other gifts were dutifully handed out to their recipients by someone wearing a Santa hat ( I do not remember who at this time), and only The Big Box remained. I then revealed that it was for the entire family and that all could rip enthusiastically into it. They did, the passel of pillows was released into the wild, my family thought that this was the lamest idea ever, and on we surged towards New Years 1995.

I persevered. Legends, after all, are made, not born.

The Big Box has been a part of our family Christmas morning for the last eighteen years. The box has contained everything from Broadway song books to South Sea black pearls to a Wii system to a Bose speaker dock. No one but me ever knows who The Box is for  or what it contains until it is the very last gift to be opened on Christmas morning. Oh, there is always guessing, computer algorithms attempt to predict the outcome and everyone has their own method of predicting and prognosticating.

Who might The Big Box be for this year?

If I told you, I’d have to kill you. You don’t want that, and neither do I.

Let’s wait until Christmas morning to find out. The results are almost always broadcast by email, tweet, Facebook post and phone call soon after the contents are known.

Yes, legends are made, not born. One day in the future, three or four generations from now, some little kid will talk about the large present over in the corner by the tree.

“Oh, yeah, Papa started that way back in ’94. I think he bought the family some pillows and thought it would be funny to wrap them up and give them as a big present to the whole family.”

“Lame.”

“Yeah, I agree.”

“I wonder who it’s for this year?”

“I don’t know, but I think we should shake it down again, what do you say?”

“Yeah, it’s awfully light this time.”

“Yeah.”

“I think it’s for me.”

“Dude, it’s totally for me.”

“No, it’s for me. You got it five years ago. I’m up.”

Merry Christmas, everybody.

I hope you have traditions in your family that keep the mystique in Christmas, the love in your hearts and the spirit of the season burning brightly for you and those you love.

It’s a Date

You may have noticed something over the years about how people sign the Christmas cards they send out. Somewhere up near the top righthand corner of the card, you’ll usually find the date. This year, it may say December 2013, Christmas 2013, or 12-25-13. I was wondering why folks feel compelled to date their cards. I came up with three broad reasons, but you may think of more. Please comment and share if you date your cards for other reasons or think of others.

First, they think that the recipient of the greeting card always keeps the cards they receive each year, and would like to have them in order of  year for easy reference in case they want to look back on them. In other words, the date on this year’s card will put it in the proper order with all the other cards from Christmas past, present and yet to come.

Secondly, the sender of the card, and maybe even the recipient, need to slow the holiday season down, to mark it and date it and time stamp it, as if this will make it last longer, move by more slowly, or be more enjoyable. I understand this especially in a year like this one, where it seems that Thanksgiving turkey was being carved in the orange light of a Jack o Lantern and Pilgrims make their way through the countryside with the Wise Men in search of the Baby Jesus during Advent. Everything is going by too fast, and marking cards with specific dates says stop, look and listen. Enjoy this one season for what it is, and don’t let it pass by too rapidly.

Thirdly, this year may be a momentous year for some reason. Something good is happening. Change is coming. This particular card on this particular date needs to be kept to mark this time that something important happened in the life of the sender or the receiver of the card, or both. Again, looking back on this card with this date may remind everyone of good tidings of great joy. To me, this is one of the best reasons to mark anything with a date. Holidays are wonderful but anniversaries are even better.

Do you mark your cards with the date before you send them on their way?

What is your reason for doing so?

Share if you feel so inclined.

Date your responses, please.

A joyous holiday season to all my friends, family and readers. Thank you for a great 2013. I look forward to sharing more musings with you in the coming year.