The Mountain

YOU WOULD HAVE LOVED IT

Everyone this year seemed kind of like, Yea, the Solstice, whatever, whoopdedo, which is weird to me because it's so cool, the first day of a new season, the change in the amount of daylight and nightdark. The acknowledgement that we are on a freaking little blue ball falling around the sun, as James Taylor sings. I mean, come on, it's pretty great and totally worthy of our attention. On the December solstice, the sun’s daily southward movement in the sky appears to pause.

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Think about that. In a life of constant motion, in a season of buying, partying, cooking, driving, cookie, decorating madness, for just a moment, on December 21, it seems that the sun pauses. It seems, of course, because we're the ones moving, not the sun. Still, if the sun can make its best effort, so can we.

And so we did, we went to be with friends last night. We drove quite a way and there were several moving parts, as there always are in this life of mine, but we pulled it off and there we were, in a room with a gigantic tree, sipping eggnog and talking to each other. I knew it was going to be a good night when I saw the ice mushrooms at the front doorway. For real! Someone had taken the time to make little mushroom sculptures out of ice and then placed them at the entranceway to the evening. If the intention was to delight, it worked.

Right about the time we had all gotten cozy and warm and settled into things, our playful and persistent hostess made us put on our coats and hats and boots and mittens to go outside for a river walk. Some grumbled, some protested but everyone went. We walked together along the New Haven River, from one glowing candle to the next, where we paused to listen to someone read a poem or a quote. It was cold and the ground was slippery, so we walked slowly and we laughed and we held on to each other, and we paused, to hear beautiful, old words spoken under cover of the darkness and the stars and crescent moon, warmed by the company and the magic.

We returned to a blazing bonfire, sang some songs, then we went inside and ate soup.

Our little party-going posse went in three different directions when we left, but not without strong hugs and I love you and see you tomorrow. It was the longest night of the year for those of us brave enough to live our lives here in the north, and it was perfect. You would have loved it.

 

I REMEMBER

the way she put the sugar in my tea every morning. We were in London, living at the YMCA on Tottenham Court Road for the first semester of our Junior year. Amy and I lived together. There is no better friend in the world than Amy, let me tell you that. Go find her if you're ever in Skaneateles and ask her if she'll be your friend and you'll never regret it, I guarantee. 

We lived at the YMCA, which was kind of weird, but also pretty great because it meant that they gave us a stipend each week to feed ourselves. And every morning we went across the street to a diner to get tea and toast on our way to class. It was the best semester of my undergraduate life. We read Shakespeare and then we went and saw the play somewhere. Everything came to life there, for me, a girl in love with words.

But it wasn't the memory of sitting in the theater or visiting Stonehenge or our funny trip to Greece that fall that came back to me. It wasn't tea at Claridge's or shopping at Laura Ashley or the tremendous disservice I did to my hair at the hands of a student at the Sassoon Academy. It wasn't even the night our beloved director, Berger, allowed us to pierce his ear, after a long and boozy dinner party at his house.

No, for some mysterious reason I remembered the way the woman in the diner across the street put two teaspoons of sugar in my tea each morning. Someone, maybe her husband, would take the order and then yell it to her: Two toast! Tea! Two sugar! I loved that. I loved it so much. It was always just right, the tea, the toast. And then off we would walk, through the streets of London, to school.

 

YOU BREAK IT, YOU BOUGHT IT

I saw this written somewhere recently. No, wait, it was in a song. I was driving to White River Junction and I heard it in a song. I thought of how I've seen signs in stores with that message: sure it's beautiful, but it's fragile, too. It's so beautiful that you're going to want to look at it up close, hold it in your hands, turn it over and see what's on the other side, but if you break it ... you've bought it, it's yours, forevermore.

I always thought it was kind of obnoxious and strange, to put the onus on the customer like that. I had a store once, and everyone who came to shop there was a gift to me. I loved talking with them, I loved that they had bothered to come to see what we were doing there, what the whole thing was all about. I loved how people found things there that they needed or wanted or loved. I loved how the little girl who lived up the street came to shop all by herself, with her own money, for Christmas presents for her family.

I loved having a shop. It never occurred to me to think that the people who came there were responsible for the delicacy of the items we had chosen to sell.

It did make me wonder, though, hearing that old line ... what if we had that message pinned to our hearts?

 

WAY UP HIGH

She is dying of something, cancer maybe. But she's not letting the pain or the now-diagnosed reality of her mortality get her down. The little room where she sits and sleeps is filled with Christmas decorations, a woodstove and photos of her family: kids, grandkids, great grandkids. Getting married, playing at the beach, working out in the yard, dressed for Halloween, celebrating anniversaries, graduating from school. Pictures everywhere. She tells me she was one of twelve growing up.

Her husband sits on the couch and watches her carefully, no doubt worried about how he will live after she dies. As in most hospice situations there is a pervasive sorrow. We try to chase it out of the room for a few moments and sometimes that's hard and sometimes it's not.

Me: I can see how much you love your family, how important they are to you.

She: Oh yes! I love it when all the grandkids are here. When I am with my family, I'm on top of the mountain.

Amen.

 
Please join us at the Pawlet Community Church at 7:30 PM on Christmas Eve for a warm, beautiful, magical, musical celebration. It's worth the drive, trust me.