By happenstance, I’m alone today and tomorrow, Christmas Eve and Day. Last time this happened was half my lifetime ago, when I was just 24 and enduring a rough patch. That holiday was spent in unwelcome solitude, in a Minnesota winter with its usual awful cold. But it was not, in the end, an awful time.
By grace (God’s) and grit (mine) I managed to make it a rich time. Even though loneliness could have toppled me like the holiday tree I didn’t have that year, I am pleased with how I handled myself through it. I recall powerfully hurling myself around an outdoor ice rink for 45 minutes until I’d burned off calories of hurt. I stocked up on decent food and assiduously avoided any alcohol, knowing it would make me happily relaxed at first, and sadly depressed later.
I didn’t have a television or a CD player, and my FM tuner was broken: enforced quiet! My neighborhood was empty for the holidays. Walking that morning, I met the mail carrier who said, “You look like you’ve lost your best friend!” He was right. Next block over, I saw a perfect, red maple leaf frozen in a patch of white snow miraculously spared from the car-soot along the darker ice of the roadway. The brilliant red managed to jar my numbed attention before I stepped on it. I knew the leaf was meant for me, in the way I always know God has finally spoken after my pitiful, long prayers for some kind of answer.
Today I’m again alone for the holidays. While it is not elective this time either, I haven’t been forsaken, just expected to carry on while family members have other obligations: my husband is tending to his mother out of state and my daughter is working and seeing her beloved later. On today’s Christmas Eve walk in the lesser cold of Colorado, I stopped to greet my neighbor Stewart, who was shoveling ice chunks from his driveway for the kids and grandkids coming tonight. Theologian-turned-realtor, Stewart understands no one chooses to be alone on the one holiday when nothing is open for human company except gas stations. In his wisdom from perhaps a former monastic life, Stewart commented on my solitary holiday as being a ‘desert opportunity,’ with only stars for guidance. One can enter the desert even in wintry climes, of course, by simply allowing for stillness and solitude. God is always found in deserts. Even if signaled by just a star, there God is, waiting on me.
As the sun sets and the only sound is my purring cat (and the refrigerator, damn), I settle into my comfy chair and wait on God, too.