I remember sitting in front of the Christmas tree. I was maybe five or six years old. I would watch the lights dance from one place to another, flashing across bulbs and crystal angels. My favorites were the cloth elves whose bones were made of steal wire. I don't remember my imaginary scenarios with them, but I do remember them being my favorite thing about Christmas. I remember pretending things with them and playing in the tree. I would go lay down in front of the heat register and watch the lights flash and wait for the furnace to clank, then fire heat to my face. When the heat would turn off, I would feel lonely. At some point in every kid's life, Christmas should become their favorite time of year. My mom made Christmas a big deal for us from the start. I love Christmas.
I was sitting on the floor sweating like I had never sweat before. I was sitting inside of a teddy bear suit. I was young and little and people eat that up. Put a cute kid with a personality inside of a teddy bear costume and you will sell all of those small church Christmas pageant tickets. I remember saying some rehearsed things that were meant to be cute and the whole crowd laughing. I looked out and saw old women with Kleenex and old men in woolen suits and fur hats. I saw what Christmas looks like to people who need Christmas. Ordinary people with simple lives, enjoying the feeling of being together with their friends and family.
Life became hard for me. At some point Christmas became something I couldn't reach, and that made Christmas sad and lonely. I had my rituals. I would take a walk around the city and look at the lights as drunk as I could make myself. I would go to Meyer and buy gifts for the five for six people that meant anything to me and end up sleeping underneath my own Christmas tree, staring at it's lights. During my walk, I would watch the warmth of family in other houses. I had family of my own, so I still don't understand it. But I wanted in. I felt outside of everywhere I went. I would take these walks because I felt alone and wanted to watch someone else's home. I sometimes brought a flashlight to flash, to remind people that I was still here. Like a beacon on a lighthouse in the fog, I was invisible.
After wonderful things happened, I found myself watching my kids stare at the Christmas tree, just like I did. There was so much wonder in their eyes. I felt like me watching them. My awesome mom bought me the closest replicas to those elves that could be found on Ebay. My kids got to see Christmas like I did. Beautiful, innocent, and quiet. This was just like the coming of Jesus. Until the phone rang one Christmas morning and changed our expectations of Christmas morning. It was Joe. He told me that my brother Will was dead. I dropped the phone and went down stairs and sat down on a laundry basket. My wife asked me what was wrong, what had happened? One of my lighthouses had gone dark. I took my time to get to his house, I didn't wan't to face it. But I did.
5 years later, while the lights twinkled and flashed across my house for my kids especially to see, I drank vodka. I drank it because I didn't know how else to go back and feel my brother with me again. I got a call. This time it was about Joe. He was gone. I was now the last of the Dead End Kids. Terrible things were felt, but I had to find a way to tell my kids and not ruin their Christmas. I spent most of my time in the basement in front of the computer, looking at pictures. Finally, I just told my kids the truth.
To do that is like playing an instrument. A sad song starts with a piano or guitar. As a musician, you wait for your turn to add something to the story. You listen to all of these beautiful contributions from people just like you. When it's your turn, you just bleed all over because that's all you have.
That's what it was like telling my children their uncle Joe was dead. I could only tell them it was over; when it was my time to weep through my instrument. He was gone and I was so sorry. At that very moment, the Christmas lights from the tree flashed all over the basement and my two kids wept because they really loved their Uncle Joe as they did, their Uncle Will. A few days later, when their uncle was put to rest, they both resumed Christmas. They celebrated like we should all celebrate. They kept focused on the Jesus...the beacon of hope. He was a beacon to all people, even if they can't see it.
Christmas isn't about death. It's not about any sadness at all. When my kids look at those lights, they are looking for a miracle. One just like when Jesus came. They are looking for people to be happy. I wrote about this before and I will again. The reason I still love Christmas is because of my little girl. The day Will died, we were all in pieces. That little girl came up to me as I was weeping in my living room and handed me a little pink heart. She told me I needed it more because my heart was broken. She knew a lot of things I had forgotten.
God is good.
God loves us.
No one is being punished.
Sometimes we get confused and lose our way.
I think that's what happened.
Merry Christmas to my brothers who left. I love you. The lights will always be dimmed without you.
Thanks for reading...Z