Growing up, Christmas was hard.
I remember one year of the years we did not have a Christmas tree, my mom and I walked home at the end of the day and there was a tree on our doorstep. No explanation, no note, nothing. Just a Christmas tree on the doorstep.
I remember the year a group of never-explained angels sent a handful of books for Christmas, the year my mom actually had some money and bought me two CDs and gave me her camera, the year… the first year I had to celebrate Christmas without her.
I remember years of bitterness, of cold, harsh denial of Christmas. Because what good comes from sitting around a tree with random stuff wrapped in cheerful paper when mom cannot even be there?
I remember Christmas mass at Hanna Boys Center, the divine voice of Richard Riley – the singer that came and sang for every holiday. Lighting the candles in the dark and feeling, for the first time at Hanna, like I was at home. The second year, feeling like I would never leave, like time would never move on, like I was stuck. The third year, knowing that I was someone, that I could be better than the parts of my past that held me down. I remember going back for Christmas mass.
In college, the worst feeling was the day after all my friends left town, a feeling of emptiness and loss that was cured by visiting the twins house for Gingerbread House Day, where we made and decorated Gingerbread Houses. One year, I made a gingerbread redshirt. His head was the first to go.
In Grad School, I looked forward to returning home for Christmas.
This year, I have known that I will be in Portland for Christmas.
A few weeks ago, I saw The Polar Express in IMAX with my buddy and his three-year-old son. There’s this character who is a young man from a low socio-economic status background. His house is on the far side of town and looks more abandoned than somewhere someone would live.
The child felt like he was undeserving of even celebrating Christmas, of being near Santa and he constantly sidelined himself during the film. And this made me cry a bit, because in a way, I was that child. I constantly felt – and sometimes still do feel – like I was/am not good enough for the holiday. Like I will always be a burden that is in the way, that I am too much.
I do not want anyone else to feel this way. Ever. I want to be able to give back, to give my time, to give my money, to give my attention. I suppose it is probably too late to do that for Christmas this year, but I am looking into doing something in the next year.
Nathan/Nathanial: You are already giving back by writing this blog. By being as open as you are to life and to the pain that is the flip side of sensitivity and awareness. It makes us writers, as we permit ourselves to stay open to it.