Dear Christmas, thank you for every mother and child who don’t belong.
Christmas, how will I ever come to grips with your expectations, with my guilt, my sense of wonder, inadequacy and longing all nestled together like misfit emotions under a tree, during a pandemic? How will I manage the memories, dangling about an evergreen we chopped down and decorated partly with love and sometimes perfection, mostly with hope for something better than hundreds of thousands of deaths?
Christmas, you brought us a refugee man and a pregnant woman, shut out of the inns where no rooms existed. You told me to believe in stars, angels, and kind people. But I know a mother who aids autistic kids, who had panic attacks while handcuffed and deported from Switzerland with her children. She couldn’t worry about COVID. I’ve seen countless women fleeing their countries this year, shut out of safe nations. They couldn’t complain about masks and lockdowns. I’ve seen refugee children without their parents, and mothers without their husbands fleeing abuse. I’ve seen rows of babies born in a refugee camp with mothers unable to buy them socks much less hand sanitizer or anything as nice as a manger.
Maybe I noticed these people because one year, Christmas, I was leaving church in a snowstorm with my three kids and husband back in Connecticut. It was far before the pandemic, and the first time I dared a Christmas celebration with my child who could not fit into quiet places, boring places, loud places, into most places where a child was supposed to behave. I hadn’t been out of the house, Christmas, because leaving the house was very difficult for my child. I felt like a refugee. But I took my crew to celebrate wise men and stars. And you let another mother talk about my child, right beside me, in that church where we were celebrating birth. She didn’t know me, and she didn’t know my child has autism. But what she said to another mother about my child who was struggling, I still hear today: “Thank God that’s not my kid.”
Christmas, thank you for my kid. Thank you for every kid who doesn’t belong, who struggles, who finds themselves and you because of their struggles. Thank you for every child who looks up at their mother and see that she too doesn’t belong, that she too doesn’t know how to find the manger, the church, the kindness on many days, including Christmas, especially in a pandemic.
May I kindly ask you Christmas — where is your stable full of those who will love strangers when they feel lost, when the night feels silent? Where is your miraculous conception? Where is your concept of birth when death becomes our daily COVID reading and the thought of surrounding any mother and child in a tiny stable feels entirely murderous?
Where are you in our empty inns and churches, our separation, in our politics and borders? Where are you in the exhausted, thinning children in camps all over the world, in the weak polar bears searching for someplace we haven’t wrecked?
Christmas, don’t worry! I still love you. I’m running, sometimes dreaming of your songs, your newborn, your light in the strangest places. I see you in an old woman by the lake watching doves from her wheelchair. I hear you in my friend’s texts as she hides in danger with her family, after deportation— but still somehow tells me she loves me. I hear you in the sound of my own laughter tumbling down a Swiss mountain by my daughter on a sled. I find you in writers on Zoom searching for you under figurines, in poems about wings, in the flavor of biscotti or the slight bitterness of a certain orange soda. I feel you in my dad overseas trying to remember you despite his Alzheimer’s — in my mother wrapping gifts to make the best of you, regardless of so much silence.
Christmas, I still believe in you. Our loss, our memories, our pain, come every year like the lonely mothers and children do— like thousands of pinholes prying through the hard long night, calling themselves stars.
You still come.
You come like all the odd shapes of snowflakes and birds winging through the cold. You cut yourself out of our messes regardless of our flaws, even if we can’t see your savior, even when we can’t love one another.
We need you Christmas. So I won’t stop searching for you, under every perfect, feeble, decorated, flawed, brilliant Christmas tree.