Trying to pull off the annual Christmas Norman Rockwell/Currier & Ives perfect holiday extravaganza, is akin to hoisting a bag of cement on your shoulders, while simultaneously heaving a box of Physician Desk References up a steadily increasing steep incline.
The load is inert and weighty, and transfers enormous amounts of unsustainable strain to one’s pale and quivering, cellulite-laced thighs, buckling knees, and causing bizarre and aberrant behavior.
This staggering process begins innocently enough around Labor Day, when the first Christmas trees appear in display windows, directly adjacent to the zombie-apocalypse costumes, and the occasional Yuletide carol inserts itself into airtime on the local rock ‘n roll stations. One is easily deceived into thinking the gradual ascent into “The Holidays” is a stroll in the park.
But it soon becomes abundantly clear that the load morphs into one of profound heaviness that can leave you feeling curiously light-headed in a “not there” sort of way. It’s like trying to inch up the hill like Sisyphus. The eyes don’t exactly focus, and one takes on that dazed and vacant look, like the after-effect of a sugar high and a glut of tedious holiday re-runs smothered in too much sentimentality.
You begin to watch yourself doing things in a somewhat disturbing, out-of-body perspective, vaguely aware of being slightly out of synch with the spatial orbit of the world…like we’re one shingle short, devoid of certifiable cognitive function.
Each year it becomes easier to sink into insipid vapidness and mutter vulgarisms in a corner, because of stress hormones that have multiplied exponentially - compromising our analytical reasoning ability.
But this year, the entire Ashton clan re-thought Christmas. We decided we would not be chloroformed by the seasonal frenzy. Perhaps this is the year to imagine the future and remember the past. It is as if we have come through a storm, and all is calm again.
The holidays become frenetic – empty and cluttered at the same time…a model of banality. It would be different this year.
As an extended Family, we decided it would be appropriate to enter a tree in Dennis’ honor for the Festival of Trees. This, we felt, was particularly appealing, because it would embody all he held sacred – the care and welfare of children. All proceeds go directly to Primary Children’s Hospital, a place Dennis devoted his heart and soul. These children were not just his patients. They were his “Super Troopers,” a term of endearment and deep respect.
After months of planning, preparation and pride, we assembled the tree – dedicated to Dr. Ashton’s Super Troopers. We knew the tree would be sincere. We just hadn’t realized it would also be beautiful.
When it was completed, we gathered around it in dumbfounded silence.
We looked at the tree in quiet reverie, each of us lost in our own memories. Trying to speak with lumpy throats just made us all sound like representatives of the “Lollipop Guild.”
Soon I noticed my little Asher was rather subdued. Ash is my high-octane, raging ball of kinetic fur. He is the original free radical. So anything less than percussive is noteworthy.
Suddenly, he turned away from the tree, and with a face contorted with sorrow and mucus, he buried himself in my midsection and wept without shame or restraint. It seemed to grant permission for what was inevitable for all of us.
I curled around him, and the family instinctively drew into a tight circle – The Clot in a knot. And then, slowly, we all hug-walked from the tree.
In a way, it was liberating. We were no longer casualties of pointless holiday mania. Our hefty burden of sorrow became an investment of hope for the children Dennis served and reverenced.
The world knows little of its greatest heroes.
As we wept, a thought occurred to me: What causes us to weep, caused our Savior to bleed. He understands our grief, absorbs our despair, and mourns with us. His love sustains us. Promises were made, and promises were kept. He coalesced the vapors, and we are no longer as heavily laden. We have rest and peace, comfort and joy.
If it is possible to find the true Spirit of Christmas, we have.