The November before Christmas when my children were 1 and 4 their mother had to be hospitalized. She’d been under treatment for depression, post-partum and other causes, and the demons she was grappling with proved too much. She had to be signed in for treatment for an undetermined period of time. I was the one to bring in her, release her to a dingy, ill-lit ward I feared she might never leave.
Although I’d always been the primary caretaker, I was suddenly the sole caretaker of two young children and an adult more needy, if possible, than the two children combined. As often happens in circumstances like that, I found myself, my children, abandoned by some of those I considered close friends, because people fear illnesses of the mind might be as contagious as the flu. I felt I I’d been trapped in a mine shaft without warning, a narrow tunnel of blackness sunk deep in the earth, the exit piled with rubble. I could see no flicker anywhere.
I’d always loved Christmas. It was my favorite holiday. I especially liked the lights. When I was a child it was the one time of year when you saw colors and brightness everywhere. At that time, dazzle was not ubiquitous, so when Christmas came the world did seem, to use that cliche, magical. Store windows, houses glowed and blinked. Centers like Lasallette Shrine draped their religious statues with red, green and gold bulbs, some small, some large, some steady, some flickering, some flashing in sequence or randomly. When it snowed, all the colors softly reflected off all that white.
But the year my wife took ill I could barely hold together my own fraying self, could not even possibly put up lights, get a Christmas tree, for my own children, let alone take them to see other people’s lights. I wanted nothing of dazzle.
My older brother Steve came down for a visit, to help. He had no children of his own, and so, although not religious, held on to a certain youthful joy and wonder about the season. He still does. His house is a delight of elves smoking incense pipes, and decorated doorframes and windows.
That year though, my thoughts basically were to have him there to help with childcare while I worked, visited my wife, tried to deal with some incredibly dysfunctional behaviors in others that surfaced when my wife had her breakdown.
But one day, after fighting with doctors on proper protocol, teaching 6 hours, visiting my wife who seemed more out of touch than ever, I came home exhausted to find Steve busily stringing lights on the porch, hanging one of those goofy plastic Santa Claus faces, hollow, made from a mold, about two feet long lit by an interior bulb.
It was the first time I’d seen my children smile since the crisis began. The first time I’d been able to relax. Up until that point I’d been flailing forward. Something about those lights, standing there in their bright glow, allowing myself to feel the small wonder of colored glass and electricity, forced me to pause. To take a breath. To move forward deliberately.
It is a dark world. There is so much in it that will rip your heart out if you let it. Pain and suffering and hatred and agony. And it is important to see that, to recognize where we fail as people to take care of each other. To take care of ourselves.
But it is so important to be open to the light, too.
©Richard Krawiec 2015. All Rights Reserved.