[For Christmas 2008 I have temporarily moved this entry from December 2005 back to the front page of domesticat.net.]
I was asked recently about my Christmas traditions. Most of mine are secular, because this is very much a secular holiday for me, but one in which my cynicism is generally set aside in favor of care. The deceptive simplicity of Joni Mitchell sits side-by-side with the gospel exuberance of Earth Wind & Fire, and I sit at my computer late at night, sipping warm drinks and composing the most ghastly and maudlin of letters. Half of them, thankfully, I never send; the other half, thankfully, I do.
The words of 'September' breathe gently through my mouth, quiet so as not to wake my sleeping spouse. They are coffee-flavored with a shot of peppermint, and my sweatshirt still holds the crispness of December air. I drove to the store for a post-midnight supply run, the last I'll make until the holiday madness dies down, and I felt my mind grabbing at any unusual detail, looking, sneaky-fingered, for the right detail to steal and cement down for a place to start.
I couldn't decide.
Would I name you singly, indicating preciousness by the ability to recite you all, adding pithy and yet inscrutable comments behind each name, trusting that each of you would see past my elliptical references to the sentiment beneath? Would I reference you by groups, using commonality as insurance against accidentally forgetting a name?
I realized there had to be another option, and I realized that I had it the other night, sitting in a hot tub with a friend somewhere outside of Atlanta. I had it when I crossed my hands behind my neck, wrists immediately chilling in the cooler air, and looked above the tree line and saw it.
The relative remoteness of my childhood home brought the night sky tapestry into a sharpness of relief that, since, I have rarely seen equaled. Clear nights brought the cool glaze of the Milky Way over stars so achingly bright that it seemed they could not possibly be so far away as science dictated. Constellations were a given, a breathtaking confetti-strewing of stars that was not the case when I began taking road trips. Country gave way to city, and nighttime darkness made way for streetlights, and a dampening of the night sky I had loved so much as a child.
My car took me to places I had only read about, and continually put me in the company of new people. Away, I would throw my bags in my car and search the night sky, looking for traces of familiarity. Orion was it; the low-slung hunter in the base of the sky that always, somehow, seemed to point me home.
At seventeen I looked up at the sky and saw a blank sky strewn with stars.
At twenty-nine, I look up at the sky and see possibility and remembrance; of many other nights, many other trips, during which at some point I would sight the sky and, mentally, find my bearings. Each time, overlapping, another memory was added to my perception of Orion, until my mental tracing of the invisible lines between stars traced highlights of my life as well.
Each time, I wondered where life would take me. Wondered who I would meet, who would become important to me, how they would change me and my perception of the world around me.
I could not have imagined you, all of you, in all your contradictions and contrariness and complexity, and I am grateful that I could not, for I would have learned less had I anticipated more.
To all of you—Orion's gift to me—I wish you a merry and joyous Christmas.