Thoughts From The 2012 Yuletide

Cal and Dia sitting in a tree

(A rare photo of the two of us together taken this summer. BTW, the light emanating from our foreheads is enlightenment, not sun glare.  Don’t be fooled.)

We send out an annual Yuletide letter with our holiday cards each year.  This is it…and the sentiments it contains hold true for all of you as well.  Here’s wishing love and good will to all mankind.

Here’s wishing you the best of the season as we head down the final stretch of the year!  As usual, we sincerely hope you’re either thriving from the gifts or coping well with the stresses these holidays tend to bring, depending on which it is for you this time around.  At its best this season includes the spirit of caring and looking out for those more vulnerable.  For anyone who pulled the vulnerable straw this year we’d just like to say thanks for giving everyone else the chance to step up and don their better selves.  May we all take turns and strive to do both with as much grace as we can muster.

Last year was the first Yuletide season in nineteen that I didn’t write this letter or send out cards for which I apologize.  It was something of a short straw year for me. Nothing catastrophic fortunately, just a couple of scares, but it left me with nothing good to say so, per my mother’s perennial wisdom, I said nothing at all.  We really missed everyone though and want to thank all our card-exchange friends for still sending us your cards even when you didn’t get anything back.  They were more appreciated than you know.

On the news front nothing much changed around here this year except that Cal and I took up flatwater kayaking.  He’s been dreaming about it for quite a while now so I finally surrendered and entered into the spirit of the thing since it certainly beat the alternative of getting a motorcycle.

It’s been amazing actually.  I’ve never done much with boats and had no idea how different the natural world feels from the water.  It’s more mysterious somehow and I can see why sailors talk about the sea as a mistress.  I’ve felt it once or twice myself…that sense of an ephemeral feminine presence…only it felt more like a mother than a lover to me.  We’ve had some extraordinary experiences ranging from gliding over water so clear it was like floating in space to trying to rescue an abandoned gosling floating in a boat lane.  But my deepest impression so far comes from the night we went kayaking up at the reservoir in September under the harvest moon, paddling along trails of rippling light surrounded by looming mountain shadows.

Pretty much everything about paddling at night was new and unnerving, but the most curious thing happened a couple of hours out when I first heard some strange, strangled sounds coming from the shore nearby.  I had no idea what was making them but felt vaguely uneasy, wondering if whatever it was could swim out and reach us.  Then we heard the whirring sound of wings launching into the air…a lot of wings…after which we heard them coming out across the water straight for us.

When Cal and I talked about it later we found out both of us thought the same thing at first: Oh shit! Bats! Initially, we couldn’t see anything because they were hidden against a dark mountain background but once they streamed out across the sky we saw a couple hundred of them with wingspans the size of herring gulls.  I nearly panicked thinking BIG bats! but then realized they really were herring gulls.  I should have felt relief I suppose but instead the previous vision of being attacked by giant bats switched to grisly images from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (thank you oh fear-generating machine of a subconscious mind.)  They must have noticed us out on the water…two awkward, splashing, fish-shaped things…and grown curious enough to fly out and investigate.

I felt pretty helpless sitting there…paddle clutched across my lap, bare head laid vulnerable to a sky full of sharp beaked shadows…but when they reached us all they did was wheel around, their ranks dividing in half to carve opposite, banking turns against the moon glowing behind them.  They were maybe twenty feet over our heads, close enough to hear the wind moving through thousands of feather tips, and my fear finally dissolved as we watched an unearthly sky-dance unfolding above us…a movement as graceful as any ballet.

It was a murmuration, an example of that mysterious communication among birds that lets them fly and wheel and turn as one, and as Cal and I leaned back in our kayaks surprised and slack-jawed, we watched rolling, rippling patterns of movement being woven into the sky.  Their synchronization was so flawless they looked like a single organism up there…some strange sky creature mimicking the fluid properties of the water below…endlessly dividing into multiple streams that peeled off and curled away only to swing back around and seamlessly join again, swelling and surging anew each time. They circled and swooped above us like that for maybe a minute or so until, their curiosity evidently satisfied, some invisible signal was given and they turned back towards shore all together, hanging there silhouetted against the moonlight for a few lingering moments before disappearing into the shadow of the mountain.

Afterwards we just sat there, stunned and stilled.  The whole thing seemed so primal…an ancient gift from the night and moonlight and water and sky…and I could feel it stirring some dim genetic memory inside me, like I was receiving an ancestral message of some kind.  Only of what, I really couldn’t tell you.  Maybe a simple reminder that, even in times of dark uncertainty, there’s still a mysterious, winged grace that can launch and locate me if I just clutch my courage tight enough and keep looking up.

This year…with the world looking as rich in uncertainty as it does right now…we hope that you, too, get to experience something unexpected and mysterious and breathtaking in the midst of it all, something that suspends all fear for a few heartbeats and leaves you reeling with wonder.  That kind of thing can help a lot with the rest.  It truly can.

As always, our continuing love and best wishes for you all.

Dia and Cal

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copyright Dia Osborn 2012

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Christmas isn’t always merry and New Years isn’t always happy. And that’s okay.

Life wasn’t designed to conform to a strict holiday schedule.

Somehow, someday, everyone who lives long enough will hit a rough year, and maybe this was one of those years for you.  You might…for very good reasons…be feeling sad or lonely, uncertain or frightened, angry or bitter, overwhelmed or numb, and I’d just like to say that if you are, whatever you’re going through and however long it lasts, you’re still just as welcome in this Season of Miracles-That-Come-In-The-Night as everybody else.  In fact, maybe even more so.

Because feeling low doesn’t mean there’s not still gratitude or appreciation, wonder or love, lying underneath.  It just means that those things are buried and resting temporarily, like a landscape hidden beneath a mantle of snow.  They’re down there waiting patiently while winter does its different yet equally important job.

I guess this is one of those holiday seasons for me.  The last year held a variety of hits and scares that were tough for me to navigate and, while none were catastrophic and all will eventually work themselves through, the cumulative effect evidently took a lot more out of me than I realized. This is the first Christmas since 1995 that I haven’t written my annual Thoughts From The Yuletide letter to slip in with our Christmas cards because, with all the good will in the world, I just couldn’t burrow down to where my hope and light are usually cached.  (And I wasn’t about to send out the crap I was digging through to get there.)

So, since the main bulk of my twinkling words remained out of reach this year, I thought I’d borrow somebody else’s instead (along with music and breathtaking photography.)  Because whether I can currently reach it or not, this is what always lives in the deepest place inside me, and it’s what I always wish most for you, too:

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

A Yuletide Wish

Image from Wikipedia

THOUGHTS FROM THE YULETIDE 2010

Dearest family and friends, old and new;

Greetings from the slushy, drizzling, overcast, and fog-riddled, slightly-far north town of Eagle, Idaho!  We fervently hope the holiday season is bringing you a lot more sunlight than we’ve seen here over the last month, and that your vitamin D and serotonin levels are correspondingly higher.  I really shouldn’t complain of course.  We need the moisture, and the snow in the mountains is a godsend.  But still. We’ve been buried under low, heavy clouds and dense fog for so long now that it’s starting to feel a lot like Venus.

The family is doing well.  Cal’s had a great year at work and, yes, he’s still traveling back and forth to the Northeast every month and loving the job.  Go figure.  A double life really seems to suit him.  And thanks to both good luck and their stellar work ethics, Lorin and Kit survived the transition and still have jobs after Hewlett Packard bought Palm last year, laying off a lot of the old work force in the merger.  McKenna graduates from Boise State University in a few days with a B.A. in English/writing emphasis and a minor in History and has developed into both a talented academic and a sensible, hard working woman.  We really couldn’t be prouder.  As for me, I was eventually buried under the organizational demands of trying to write a book about dying, so I shelved the project and started a blog about dying instead.  Turns out it’s a lot easier to continue to sound coherent in a few paragraphs than it is throughout hundreds of pages.  Who knew?  I have a deepened respect for anyone who writes an entire book about anything.

*          *          *

Well, right after I wrote the above paragraphs two weeks ago the tsunami hit and I was swept out to sea by the combined demands of holiday preparations, graduation celebrations, blogging schedule, joining a gym (not the best timing on that one…), and cramming a block of dental/medical appointments into the end of the year to try and catch the insurance benefits before they expire.  That’s how I find myself sitting here a day and a half before Christmas, stuffed and tired, pressured by deadlines, sweating and sore, screened and cleaned, just a wee bit stressed out, and still trying to think of something warm, fuzzy, and holiday themed to say in the yuletide letter this year.

Merry Christmas?

Actually, I say that carefully.  A few years ago Cal and I took a walk along the river on Christmas day and ran into an older couple who wished us a Merry Christmas as they passed by.  When we smiled and wished them the same, to our surprise they became agitated and stopped to talk.  Evidently, they’d wished someone else a Merry Christmas earlier in the day and whoever it was had bristled and taken offense at the greeting.  Our older couple had retaliated by taking offense at the fact that offense had been taken and, lo and behold, in direct opposition to the spirit of the season, the cycle of bad feelings was up and running, passing on its merry little way downriver to us.

I’ve thought about that one ever since.  I realize there’s often tension these days around what Christmas…and other traditions for that matter…are supposed to mean, how they’re supposed to be celebrated, and whether or not they should even hold the prominent place they do in a secular society.  It’s understandable.  I think we all tend to get a little territorial about the traditions that are most important to us, and it’s only natural to resist the intrusion of other traditions onto our own.

The urge to protect the unique rituals, values, and celebrations that nourish, strengthen, and guide us in our lives is universal.  I know I certainly don’t want anyone else messing with the way I celebrate my season.  But having said that, please believe me when I say that neither do I have any desire to dictate how you should celebrate yours.

We weren’t a particularly religious family when I was growing up, so my parents took the Santa Claus track and really poured themselves into celebrating the magic of Christmas.  They went to great lengths to create as much joy, wonder, and sense of miracle for us kids as possible and, funny though it might sound, some of the most important, foundational lessons of my life were learned from the way they taught us to celebrate the season.

First of all, they taught me that Santa Claus was real. That there actually existed a jolly, caring, magical being who was so generous–so loving and happy–that he devoted his whole life to flying through the world to try and touch, enrich, or bring love to every last, living person in it.  Naturally, this understanding evolved quite a bit as I grew up.  (You’ll be relieved to know I no longer believe in Santa.) However, it also instilled a couple of lasting and important beliefs in me:

1) There are powerful and benign forces at work in creation that sincerely desire my happiness, and

2) Gifts aren’t always given because they’re earned or deserved.  Sometimes generosity is just for its own sake.

Secondly, my parents taught me that sometimes miracles come in the night, and I can’t begin to tell you how much courage and hope I’ve drawn from that lesson over the years.  Throughout my childhood and on into adulthood, it’s helped me to be less afraid of the shadows, to trust that along with the monsters, darkness also harbors miraculous, luminous gifts.  And I honestly think the odd faith I developed from that early lesson helped me more during the lean, dark years of my battle with depression than anything else.

Third, my mom and dad required us, from the time we were small, to think about, select, wrap, and give gifts to each other.  And when we finally got to open them all on Christmas morning, we always did it one at a time, each of us taking turns opening a present while everyone else watched and shared in our excitement.  We circled around and around this way, as many times as it took, until everyone was done and it was this ritual, more than any other in my life, that taught me how the giving and receiving of gifts is really a banquet for everyone to sit down and enjoy.  I learned that whether I’m giving or receiving, ripples of happiness can be created either way, and the truer the spirit with which I do both, the wider the ripples become.

There were a thousand other lessons of course, opportunities to develop qualities like patience and self-control, as well as learning how to manage things like disappointment, envy, and greed.  I’ve continued to build on these early lessons all my life, and I feel like the Christmas traditions practiced by my family were actually fundamental and essential to the development of my deepest sense of humanity.  I’ve always known that my family’s way of celebrating Christmas was neither the “right” way nor the only one, but it was our way and that made it beautiful, nourishing, and perfect for us.  It created magical ties of love, faith, strength, and generosity that bound us closer together, and gave us a way to reaffirm each year the things that my family cherished most.  And I’ve done my level best to pass the same gifts and lessons down to my own children.

I guess this is all just a long way of trying to explain that, if Cal and I wish you a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or Peace of the Season or any other kind of holiday wish, it’s not because we’re trying to impose our childhoods, or beliefs, or values, or culture on you.  We’re not.  We don’t believe in that.  We love the fact that everyone gets to find and draw meaning for their life in the way that feels right and true and most nourishing to them.  And we love even more that we all have the freedom to do just that.  No.  All we’re really trying to do with the greeting is make a deep, sincere, and heartfelt wish for you from the language of our childhood joy:

For us Merry Christmas means that, no matter what holiday you do or don’t observe, and no matter how you do or don’t observe it, from the depths of our hearts and with the greatest good will, we wish for you all that is best in your world, from all that is best in ours.

With great love and even greater hope,

Cal and Dia

Wikipedia again

copyright Dia Osborn 2010