I habitually listen to The Mental Illness Happy Hour. That and running are all I have in terms of a spiritual practice these days (although one could argue praying all day about how to manage being a decent parent counts as spiritual). The podcast, as you can probably imagine, is striking in it’s honesty and the host couldn’t be more vulnerable and thus, brings out the same in his guests. I find it riveting, sometimes painful, and always healing to listen to.
He has many surveys for listeners to take on his website, and one of the most touching is the Happy Moments survey. And as I sit here, weepy and incredibly emotional after a very tough 24 hours with my son, I want to try and capture what was maybe the happiest moment of my life.
(This was long ago and I did a lot of drugs in my teens so some or many of the details may be wrong. I will simply recall what my mind says is so and sister, chime in if you remember anything I didn’t.)
Christmas Eve in North Canton Ohio. I’m in my late teens and my sister is in her early teens. It’s after dinner and I’m too full and have had too much sugar and have that simultaneous bored/overstimulated feeling I get when all of our family gathers for big occasions. There is so much anticipation and I’m so happy to be there and at the same time I witness the stressed daughters of the alcoholic father (my grandfather) and the wonderful, yet controlling and critical mother (my grandmother) whose home we are in, which feels so incredibly warm and undeniably “Christmas” and yet there is this urge to escape it. Every room is decorated, down to the Santa Claus toilet cozy. Nat King Cole and Rosemary Clooney holiday albums are played on an actual record player in a beautiful, wooden stereo. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is on TV, playing softly as my grandfather snores in his chair. There are at least two Christmas trees and everyone is dressed up and there is a fire blazing.
I don’t know what to do with myself (other than eat yet another Christmas “Santie” cookie), and as always, my first instinct is to go for a walk. It’s dark, but it’s not too late, and my sister and I go out into the snow. It’s that perfect Winter evening where fat flakes are falling so you know it’s cold, but there is no wind and enough humidity in the air so that as long as you keep walking, you’re cozy in your outerwear. It had actually been snowing all day and because of the holiday, there with very few tire tracks or foot prints, so we were walking through about six inches of fresh white snow, our imprints were the only, and the combination of snow and very little traffic made the world silent. We looked at homes that were lit up for Santa and got to spy on families sitting in living rooms and gathered around tables.
I don’t remember the specifics, but I know we talked about futures and dreams. We walked for at least two hours, and I remember never wanting to go back. My sister and I always had a complicated relationship, and weren’t naturally close very often, but then we would have moments like this, or the spontaneous sleepover that I would find so incredibly comforting. Like, yeah, this girl is a pain in my fucking ass, but I love her and she’s always gonna be here, and we can be so mad at each other, and always get to start over. That’s what the word sister means to me.
Today, my grandparents are gone. That house is gone. That stereo is gone. My extended family doesn’t gather anymore. We’re all too spread out and travel is difficult and expensive with little kids, blah blah blah. Most importantly, the grandparents had this pull, this weighty expectation of gathering the family that was both a blessing and a burden. I grieve for it now that it is gone, and I hope to create my own sense of holiday wonder for my family…we’ll see. All I know is the next time I’m home for Christmas, I’m taking a walk with my sister.