FEATURE — There can be so much joy in the holiday season: love, good will, charity, merriment, celebration, lights, traditions, singing, food, friends and family.
And yet there can also be so much sadness: loss, darkness, grief, sorrow, loneliness and longing.
Sometimes the joy and sadness hold their own space. Sometimes they are inextricably linked. As is the case with the angel that adorns my Christmas tree.
We used to have a big, beautiful gold star there. Now, we have a dented homemade angel.
The angel is a black and white paper mâché visage of my nephew, who died in a small plane crash in rugged Idaho right after Thanksgiving six years ago. The plane – and all its occupants – were missing for weeks.
That holiday season, my husband, his brothers and dozens of generous volunteers spent days combing through the suffocatingly cold and barren mountain scape in search of survivors. And then, in search of wreckage.
It was a bleak and heart wrenching time. My oldest, then 10-years-old, made a paper airplane for every hour his cousin was missing.
I think he was convinced if he just made enough of them, the weight of the paper would constitute enough will to find his cousin, safe and alive.
Until the sheer volume of paper planes became an overwhelming expression of how truly lost the cause was. And we had to turn the paper into something else.
Something hopeful. An angel for our tree.
That angel has topped our tree from then until now. As a reminder of our love. And a reminder of our loss.
This year, my family has a new loss. A new sorrow to grieve this holiday season: the sudden death of my 34-year-old cousin, Zach.
In addition to being a great warrior (he battled pancreatitis and cancer –twice), Zach was also a great lover. A lover of the outdoors. A lover of people. And a lover of food.
His love of the outdoors and of people may have been innate. But the love of food – and his ability to cook really good food – was born from the years he spent at his mother’s elbow watching and helping her cook.
In a household of five boys, as was the case in their home, you can imagine something was always cooking – because someone was always hungry.
Our extended family gathered last weekend at a fresh, white farmhouse in the Heber Valley to celebrate Zach’s life. There was good will, charity and love in great depth. There was also grief, loss and longing just as deep.
From that commingled space, my aunt shared sentiments from “Perhaps the World Ends Here” by Joy Harjo, poet laureate of the United States, that spoke to her grief. To her loss. To her love. To her joy.
To all of it together.
“The world begins at a kitchen table… / We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it. / It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human… / We have given birth on this table and have prepared our parents for burial here. / At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.”
It is no wonder then, if the world does begin at the kitchen table, that it lives so boldly around the holiday one.
The highs and the lows. The births and burials. The joys and sorrows. The chickens and the dogs.
All of them, together. All of them a part of life. All of them apart of this season of celebration. As it should be.
The last line of Harjo’s poem reads, “Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.”
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