Chains of life



December 25, 2012


This never gets easy, this sadness that comes on holidays like this.

We talk about home and home coming, and realize that surviving means leaving many of those things behind – especially the people.

Once rich in family, I have become devoid of members – either scattered by the grim reaper or driven out of the state by high taxes.

Also, a huge part of the holiday has always been my best friend’s birthday for which we gathered each year on Christmas Eve to celebrate, a gathering that lost meaning with his death in March 1995.

Most of my closest family died in the years between 1989, when Uncle Harry died, to New Years Eve 2001-01 with the passing of my mother. A few lingered for the next decade, but the last of those I consider my elders or contemporaries passed this year, leaving a huge gap in my life – even though I had not seen Uncle Pete in a few years.

My family has for the most part consisted of wife, ex-wife and my daughter, and Christmas has usually involved a trip around the holidays to Scranton where my ex-wife and daughter live. Last year, I went west on Thanksgiving weekend, only to get struck with retina detachment that kept me blind for several months.

This year, I not only went west on Thanksgiving, but also Christmas weekend, staying over in a cheesy motel in Moscow where the wind howled and so did other woodland creatures, although it was the creaking bed that kept waking me, and, of course, the thought of time passing, and people missed, and loved ones past and present, part of that litany of love we profess but rarely accomplish.

Scranton hasn’t changed much since my first visit there in mid-1971, nor over the decade that followed in which I lived an estranged existence from ex-wife and daughter, nor did it seem much altered from that day in July in 1982 when we reconnected, and have kept close since – a city in decade, whole at its core, but frail around its edges, buildings straight out of the turn of a century few are alive now to remember, sagging, gray, sad and full of the terrible social problems most declined economies face: drugs, prostitution, violence, and a fear of change.

Going back is always a trip through time. I always feel like the 32-year-old lost soul seeking forgiveness, returning to make up for past mistakes, and like that first time when I saw my daughter standing waiting for me in one of the small streets (only blocks from where she lives now) waiting for me, I was shocked at how innocent she looked, how previous, and how much like me she has become – naïve in the belief that love conquers all, and the by loving someone, you are not saving them, but yourself.

When I talked to my daughter about marriage, her response reminds me the opening lines of Women in Love, and the offers she’s had, and how she was more tempted not to marry, than to marry, knowing that marriage and love are an experience, but not always a good one, and she still holds out for that one experience that is worthy of temptation.

I am hardly an expert on love, only that when I love, I throw myself recklessly into it, for good or bad, and even when burned by its intensity or by my inability to make it work, I never stop – even for those like one striper I loved in the 1980s whose grave I visit regularly. I will never convince my daughter that love conquers all, and certainly do not believe that it is better to have loved and lost, then to not have loved at all – thinking, of course, of that line from Men in Black: “Oh yeah, why don’t you try it.”

I guess the best I can offer is that idea that sometimes, having people who we love in life, here or gone, near or far, endeared or estrange, provides us with those three ghosts we need most to make Christmas work in our lives, and to keep us from dragging around a chain of selfish acts in life in the afterlife. If we bear these chains in life, working loose the kinks that bind us, we need not worry about them in the next world where we can finally greet all those lost souls I ache over each Christmas, my mother, best friend, uncles and aunts, and then take our place on that line to greet those who love has bound us to in this world, hoping that they somehow manage to deal with their own chains before they get there.


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