By Trudy Wischemann
The holidays are upon us, with Halloween (my favorite holiday) only a vague memory. The stores are full of Christmas decorations and music, as if Thanksgiving weren’t worth the shelf space. Some people on my block already have their trees up, lighted.
For many people the holidays are joyful; for others, they are full of dread. This year, with so many people in Butte County still combing the ashes for loved ones and the material remains of their lives, this year will be a challenge.
I’ve been reading a small book I found on the Friends of the Library Sale table in Lindsay, Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff (1987). It is a Job-like testimonial written by a Christian philosopher after the death of his 25-year old son in a solo mountain climbing accident in the Alps. I’ve read many books on grief; they say there’s nothing harder than losing a child. But this beautiful little book hit home on some important parts of family life that I know to be true from my own. We’ll never be all together again, he laments.
“The worst days now are holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, birthdays, weddings, January 31 – days meant as festivals of happiness and joy now are days of tears. The gap is too great between day and heart. Days of routine I can manage; no songs are expected. But how am I to sing in this desolate land, when there’s always one too few?”
As the sister of a lost child I can attest to the persistence of this unforgettable gap in families. It is as if family get togethers provide the perfect reason to remember the missing. For many years I found my presence in family gatherings provoked the memory of my brother. It seemed like it was almost better if I stayed away.
“Thanksgiving is a holiday for survivors,” my sweetheart said as I proposed this topic. “It’s about being thankful to God and to the native Americans who showed the Pilgrims how to survive in this new land. It’s about having arrived and not died,” he continued, then drifted off into the origins of Christmas.
But I took these words to heart, and began applying them to the days we live in now. Perhaps we should give thanks for all those who escaped the flames and for those who helped them do it. Perhaps we should give thanks for all those Central American migrants marching toward our border, and those encamped in Tijuana despite the locals’ resistance. Perhaps we should give thanks – and assistance – to all those who are helping these traumatized survivors keep going.
Perhaps this is what it truly means to be all together. Give thanks for each other, every survivor, for the very fact of living, and then also for the ones who have gone on without us. Be well, friends