I fell in love with Christmas in college.
Several years back someone donated, like, a trillion dollars, to the city of Marshall to buy a gazillion little white Christmas lights to be placed in the historic downtown area. An ice skating rink popped up, they started selling hot chocolate and having programs where people from the schools and community organizations would sing Christmas carols and sometimes it would get cold and, you know, it's like all the cool movies where good and pleasant things happen downtown in December surrounded by Christmas and neighbors. George Bailey running through Bedford Falls yelling "Merry Christmas!" Kevin McAlister being reunited with his mom at the end of Home Alone. Stuff like that.
Today it got cold in Waco. Real cold. I was hungry for non-house food and after I realized all the restaurants in close proximity to me closed early due to icy conditions (Michnas and La Fiesta,) I made my way downtown. I sat myself down at Ninfa's, ordered, and proceeded to begin my annual rereading of my now tattered version of Ann Lamott's "Traveling Mercies."
The last few weeks have been a very "Traveling Mercie's" type time for me. If you haven't read it, read it. If you haven't reread it, please do. (Especially if you are in the post-cynic phase.) It really is like good wine (that is, if you like wine.) I don't like wine, but it's the only better-old thing I can think of. I have an autographed copy of the book and it's pages are yellowed and tattered. If I had an autographed copy of any other of my favorite books I would protect it with my dear life. But it's quite appropriate that my copy of Traveling Mercies is yellowed and tattered because Lamott writes for those of us whose faith, and lives, are frayed, coming apart at the seams, held up with the cheap glue of wonderful friends and the grace of God.
When I walked back to my car I noticed the lit Christmas tree in Heritage Square and decided that I would walk through the cold, across the two parking lots, to stand at the tree. Perhaps I was looking for Macauley Culkin, the lonely boy abandoned by his family and weary from being chased by thieves. Maybe I was trying to relive my Marshall years. Maybe I just wanted to walk in the cold, wrapped tight in my leather jacket, to go see a Christmas tree.
As I was walking, freezing my ass off, I remembered the thing I wrote about December in my letter to November, about how it would wrap me in it's arms, strong with sweet melancholy and even sweeter peace. And I realized how true that has become.
About ten years ago I asked my Estonian friends why they drank hot drinks in the summer and cold drinks in the winter. They told me they wondered why American's did the opposite. Something about balance, they said. You drink hot drinks in the summer and cold drinks in the winter so your insides match your outsides. Whatever, I thought. I passed it off as New Agey, animistic residue.
But tonight, walking toward the Christmas tree in empty downtown Waco, it all made perfect sense. I was wrapped in the arms of December, strong with sweet melancholy and even sweeter peace. The peace is a product of the melancholy. It's cold and treacherous outsdie. My insides have also become cold and treacherous. Balance has brought peace.
As has THIS.