For most of the last 20 years I’ve been lucky enough to have the job flexibility (and enough paid-time-off) to take a few long weekends before Christmas and some time off around the holiday itself. The last several years I’ve taken all of the Fridays after Thanksgiving plus the week of Christmas (and usually through New Year’s Day). Now, one of the reasons I do that is because there are always extra tasks to do at this time of year: presents to acquire for those I love; shipping of some of those presents to far away places; food shopping for the get-togethers with friends; decorations to put up; any extra cleaning or repairs around the house that we realize need to happen because we are trying to put up decorations; et cetera. Not to mention that I write a Christmas Ghost Story every year. And then there are family obligations.
For reasons spelled out in some previous blog posts, we’ve been avoiding spending the actual holiday with my relatives. Which means that I pick a day off shortly before the holiday to drive down to my Mom’s house, drop off presents, visit with her, take her to dinner, and stop in briefly to see other family members that live in the same town. Then I come back home to my husband the same day, and we have the actual holiday just to ourselves.
So, even though technically I have been on vacation for several days, I haven’t had a single day that feels like a vacation. The first day I had to do final grocery shopping for the party, wrap presents, drop off Christmas stuff with a friend who was leaving town, do some of the cooking, and finish the ghost story. The next day we both had to finish cleaning the house, cook everything for the party, host the party (including my performance of the ghost story). And then do some of the cleaning before going to bed. The next day I needed to do more cleaning, turn some of the leftovers into soup for us to eat, watch my favorite football team lose a game they should have won handily, and wrap all the presents I’m taking to family. Then the next day I have to get up, pack the car, drive a couple hours down the freeway, do all the errands down there, drive a couple hours back.
And then it will be Christmas Eve. And at a minimum, there will be some cooking for us (and I’ll likely have to run to the store for something). And then on Christmas Day there will at a minimum be more cooking.
Please note: none of the above is meant to be a complaint or venting. These are all things I am choosing to do because I want to spend time with people that I love and so on. But, I have had more than one friend or acquaintance who has heard that I’m on vacation ping me to find out if we could do some fun activity on one of the aforementioned busy days. All four of them have been perfectly understanding of the fact that I’m all booked up for those days, so I am also not complaining about them.
What I am complaining about are the dang brain weasels in my own head that start trying to make me feel guilty and admit I am a total failure because I don’t have time for unplanned things for a few days.
And those weasels usually manifest as either the voice of my late nice grandmother or the voice of my late evil grandmother, each in their own way twisting the screws of guilt to the maximum.
I had a blast at the party. It is wonderful to see these friends, some of whom I have known and loved and been celebrating with for 34 years. I love seeing people enjoy food I have made. I love even more getting to eat wonderful things those friends bring to the party. I love chatting with and hearing those friends. I love the various performances some of them bring to answer the Ghost Story Challenge. I love seeing friend unwrap presents and express delight at their gifts.
I know there are going to be many fun moments while I’m doing my one-day zoom through with family. I know I will enjoy hanging out with my husband on Christmas Eve and whatever we decide to do that night (likely watch some Christmas movies). I know I will enjoy whatever I find in my stocking from Santa on Christmas morning. I will have fun as my husband and I open the presents from under the tree. I will enjoy whatever meals we make on those day.
All of this busyness isn’t without purpose or meaning. But sometimes at least some slices of my brain gets whiney about it. And I know I’m not the only one.
And yes, there will be some more busy days. I skipped our usual laundry day because we were prepping for the party, so one one of these coming vacation days there will be a reckoning for that. There will be more cleaning. There will be attempts to meet up with some of the friends we haven’t gotten to hang out with. There will be at least one trip to a movie theatre.
But there will also be at least a few mornings where I get to sleep in and be lazy for part of the day. I just don’t know exactly which ones, yet.
A Zen master asked a young student to bring him a pail of water to cool his bath.
The student brought the water, and after cooling the bath, threw the remaining water over the ground.
“Think,” said the master to the student. “You could have watered the temple plants with those few drops you have thrown away.”
The young student understood Zen in that exact moment. He changed his name to Tekisui, which means drop of water, and lived to become a wise Zen master himself.
The lesson most learn from the story of A Drop of Water is that as we struggle with the big problems and seek answers to big questions, that we sometimes forget the importance of small, ordinary moments. I often write on this blog about problems that many people face, or wrestle with questions of how to be a better story teller, or talk about great moments in history or my favorite genre. It is easy to get lost in worrying about some of the injustices in the world or dangers looming over one segment or another of the population. For me it is just as easy to get lost in my routines and personal goals. I have to get to work and finish certain things, and want to make progress on my writing, while putting my thoughts about all of those big things and many of the small things into blog posts.
I’m pretty good at hauling buckets around, but still not great with the drops.
I knew someone who seemed excellent with both the buckets and the drops. Last week she passed away. It wasn’t a surprise, she had been dealing with an illness for some time. But it was still a shock.
Ann was the mother of my good friend Kehf. I met her at Kehf’s wedding (or was it a rehearsal before?). You don’t get to know a person well under those circumstances. Mostly you come away with an impression. It was a few years later that I got to know her as someone other than that nice woman whose eyes sparkled when she smiled.
When I started an earlier version of this blog, she would occasionally comment. We might exchange a couple emails with follow up discussions. And then I started getting comments from people I didn’t know, often with someone saying something along the line of “I’m so glad Ann shared this link.” And the people who commented came from many different parts of the world, and many different backgrounds. I came to realize that Ann seemed to know everyone. Well, not literally everyone—more accurate to say she had friends everywhere.
I started to get a numerical inkling of the vastness of her network of friends when I moved this blog to WordPress. The previous hosts hadn’t given me very good statistics, but with WordPress every time I log in I see a bar graph of the hits on my blog for today and the previous 29 days. Most of the time my blog putters along with a fairly stable number of hits per day. there’s a little variation: days that I don’t publish anything new are lower than new post days, for instance. But every now and then, I will log in and see the bar for either that day or the previous day literally ten times as tall as the usual. And almost every time, it turned out to be because Ann shared that particular post.
I understand why it works. Any time Ann sent me a link (unless I recognized it as a story or blog or whatever that I had just recently looked at) I clicked on it to see what it was, and then had to send her a comment. Because she never sent me something that wasn’t interesting. Not just interesting in a general sense, but usually targeting to some of my particular interests. In the last several days as I’ve read several tributes to her, I notice how many people talk about the news and links and information she shared, with the same observation that it was always interesting or useful to the person receiving it.
She was really good at remembering what was important to every person she knew.
Relationships were her super power.
Ann was an episcopal priest. During her lifetime her church went from refusing to contemplate the ordination of women, to allowing women to be priests, then bishops, and eventually presiding bishop. It was a tough fight, but Ann didn’t back away from fights. She later brought that same cheerful determination as an ally of the queer communities in our fights. There were several times when I wrote about my frustration and fears about our fight for equality, when Ann would send me a message with words of encouragement gleaned from the fight for the ordination of women—it was worth the fight, even if it didn’t seem victory wasn’t getting closer.
I once wrote a post trying to explain my feelings about religion and spirituality, and why my particular journey had taken me away from the religion in which I’d been raised to my own variant of Taoism. I compared spirituality to water: how some people love the ocean, while others prefer rivers and streams, and others are more happy with well-maintained pools. I compared traditional churches (of any religion) to community swimming pools. They are there for those who want them, and they can be wonderful. While I’m more of a run out into the rain kind of guy.
After reading the post, Ann sent me an email: “Just call me your local community pool lifeguard!” Yes, mostly she was saying she understood what I was saying, and that her calling to be a priest was just as viable a spiritual position as my more freewheeling approach. But she was also being a bit modest. Because Ann didn’t limit herself to just ministering to the congregations of the churches she worked in. That way she had of collecting friends near and far, of remembering what was important to each of us, of sending us articles we’d find interesting, and commenting (sometimes debating) things we posted, that was another form of ministry.
And this queer ex-Christian/recovering Baptist felt extremely lucky to be at least occasionally on the receiving end of her vocation.
Rise in Glory, Ann.
But there are good things in my life. Specifically, good people. My husband. Our many wonderful friends. People near and far who have reached out to say we’re not alone in this. For most of my life family hasn’t referred to people who happen to be related to me by blood. Yes, a couple of my actual relatives have always been supportive and accepting even while others were most actively letting me know that my queer self was not welcome, but they are the minority. I’ve felt much more welcome and accepted by many of my in-laws. Not only that, my ex-wife and several of her family members have been more accepting of me than most of my blood relatives.
But blood or DNA isn’t what makes someone family. I will fight anyone who tries to say the my mom’s adoptive father wasn’t my real Grandpa, for instance. Family are the people who love you not in spite of your flaws, but including the flaws. It’s known that they have your back, and that you have theirs. The old joke is that a friend might help you move, but a real friend will help you move a body; and I am lucky enough to have some friends of the latter category (and I hope they know that I’m in that category for them, too).
The larger world seems to be out of control right now. What’s getting me through the craziness is knowing that I have these people I love, and who love me as well.