There are two Christmas songs I can’t quite get out of my mind this year. One is called “What a Year for a New Year” by Dan Wilson and the other is titled “Maybe This Christmas” by Ron Sexsmith. Neither one focuses strictly on family or seasonal good cheer or the birth of Christ. When it comes right to it, they are wistful, melancholy songs about what has been and what could be. Hopeful, but not sappy.
I’m not sure I could describe my own feelings that way this season. Yes, hopeful is good but I can’t promise I’m not just a little bit sappy. I’ve welcomed my three boys home from college and can’t begin to describe how much joy that brings me. They are no less than the miracles of my life; and sometimes I wonder how I’ve been so blessed with them.
I've spent the last few months passing by three empty rooms that were pristine but vacant. Walking down the hall this past week or so, and seeing their three closed bedroom doors in the morning, is an old, familiar and comfortable feeling. (What’s behind those doors, scattered about and not necessarily neatly tucked away is a small price to pay for their company. It’s also why I prefer the doors remain closed throughout the day.)
At the same time, I know that home seems to be the ‘place between places’ for them these days. They’re here, but it will never quite be the home of their childhoods. They’re leaving more of themselves elsewhere these days, and less of themselves within our walls. And that will continue, until only a few traces of each of them remain here, to be brought to life from season to season, from event to event, from time to time.
The hopeful part of me wants them to move forward into their lives, full of confidence and tenacity, but mostly I want them to move forward with love in their hearts. For themselves, for family and friends, for the years they’ve spent in our home and for the memorable moments we created there together.
I’m hopeful that Dan Wilson’s lyrics don’t necessarily carry much meaning for them, at least not yet. The difficult times we all endure, the times when there was almost no light to be found are poetically expressed in his song:
Soon we’ll be lying in our beds
And new dreams will fill our heads
And the old ones will be ended
Hope we’ll forget about this place
Let it go without a trace
Wipe the teardrops from our faces
Oh! What a year for a new year!
Are there moments all of us want to forget? Times that would be best erased from our memory? Yes. Maybe new dreams will fill our heads and we’ll forget about the old.
If only I could believe that. I’m not sure there are things I can let go without a trace. The raised voices? The tears? The frustration that came out on the wrong people at the wrong time? We've spent nearly twenty years together as a family and not every moment was a Hallmark card. Not every event was a Rockwell painting. But can my sons do that? Can they let it go? Maybe that ability comes with the resiliency of youth and it’s more easily accomplished at twenty than at fifty.
Sometimes that choice to forget feels possible, even to me, but the Christmas season somehow adds another level of complexity to the question, doesn’t it? Which brings me to the lovely, hopeful but not sappy words of Ron Sexsmith:
Maybe this Christmas will mean something more
Maybe this year
Love will appear
Deeper than ever before
And maybe forgiveness will ask us to call
Someone we've loved
Someone we've lost
For reasons we can't quite recall
Maybe this Christmas
Maybe they'll be an open door
Maybe the star that's shone before will shine once more
That’s really the heart of it, isn’t it? That even though we’ve lived through some difficult moments, a star will shine again for us?
All of which gets me exactly no where it would seem. I’m at some kind of unfamiliar and surprising crossroads, where the first act of my life as a mother is coming to a close and the second act will begin soon enough. A second act, I might add, where the role has been quite diminished to that of a supporting player, even to ensemble member. These songs force me to consider a couple of questions I’d rather not contemplate about my nearly grown children: would they prefer to forget this place? To let it go without a trace?
I don’t think so but then again, I don’t really know. We all have our secret moments and quiet thoughts we don’t easily share.
Are they hoping for an open door somewhere out there in the world, with a light that shines so brightly it will replace the ever-diminishing one at home?
Maybe so and maybe that’s all good. Maybe there is supposed to be a brighter light, to serve as a beacon that calls them to their adult lives; one that dims, but doesn’t extinguish, the light shining at home.
But I'll leave it on anyway.