The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

This Christmas tree must come down. It absolutely must come down today, the20th of January; a free Sunday since I was called off work. It is well past the Epiphany and the end of the Christmas season. In fact, I faintly heard both those days heckling each other as they ran past our house on the sunlit sidewalk below. The dog heard them first and added his yelps out the window. I saw the tail end of a couple of pairs of jean legs and boots, and the flying tassle of a stocking cap. Can’t say I blame them one bit. They have finished their required duties in this year’s festivities. No cups o’kindness, no present mirth nor present laughter remains for those of us left behind. Probably the curly headed baby Jesus is with them. They’ll meet up with the three wise men and go ice skating up at the lake in Burnet Woods, swooping past the ducks that live there, laughing at the chorus of cantankerous quacking.

In years past I couldn’t wait to put up our tree and ornaments with the company of “White Christmas;" The Bing and Rosemary Clooney in the background and a young Danny Kaye dancing around like he was made from pipe cleaners. I lost heart this winter bringing down our accumulation of boxes and untwining, unwrapping, un-shrouding decades of decorations and memories, followed by the thought of having to repack it in a flurried few weeks.
There are no old holiday movies on TV this afternoon. There are no old movies on at all. That widens the emptiness. A couple of dancers from the ‘40’s or a pair of detectives in black and white would be good company today while I take down tiny wooden birdhouses from a palely lit tree.

What’s next for dismantling is the ornament that was my big brother’s when we were kids. It’s a large and tarnished red glass globe with the name TOMMY handwritten on it in silver glitter, the letters still undamaged after his fifty-six winters.

Some people seem to be indestructible. My brother falls into this category. They continue to survive past dramas, overdoses, bad choices, and just plain bad luck. They keep on stepping on, each day a new one, the day that will be better than yesterday. You think that eventually they will reach a plateau where you can meet up with them again, be present with the person who bookends the set of memories from a brother’s and sister’s childhoods. If you ever let yourself think some people can forever weather what life hands out, you are wrong. You gravely underestimate the Veterans’ Administration’s Emergency Room on a holiday weekend. If you add to this a sister--two thousand, four hundred and five miles across the country, the only sibling, busy with her own three days of 12 hour shifts on that same holiday weekend--you create a crack so wide that to fall through it is without any hope of rescue. Tommy’s fall through the crack was eight months ago.

I say the words to myself. He’s at peace now… He’s in a better place… He was lost and now he’s found. All the words a person is instructed not to say to a mourning family. I look through this morning’s church bulletin, superstitiously hoping to find wisdom for the day. All I find is that it’s the second Sunday of Ordinary Time, and instead of psalms, caught at the corner of my brain is a ragged edge of song…..

“… But when I reach across the galaxy
(and I will someday)
I will miss your company…”

This tree can wait another day; hell, it can stay up forever. The truth is, grief has a way of settling in and making itself at home. I’ll find a way to rearrange our daily clutter and make room for it, play a bit more Rickie Lee Jones and listen to what peace she sings. For now though, the dog and I are going for a walk and he’ll sniff the air for stray squirrels, maybe some ducks. Along the way we’ll keep watch out for wayward ice skaters. With any luck they’ll still be out on the lake, blades offering up to the sunlight splintered sprays of ice suspended for a flash of time.


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