“I think this is the best one we’ve ever had,” Joan said Friday as we admired the eight-foot tree standing in the corner of our living room, one I had purchased hours earlier from a small, local lot we’ve patronized for as long as I can remember.
At that point, the tree was simply an intruder, some oversized thing I “tracked in” from the outdoors, like mud on my shoe or the smell of winter that often sticks to our clothes as we re-enter our warm homes after working outside this time of year.
I had brought it inside to let the branches “relax” for a day or so before we adorned it with the lights and ornaments that would officially make “Haznaw Christmas Tree 2020.”
I recall one or both of us making that statement before, quite possibly every year, probably because it seems like the thing to say when you put forth the effort to drag a large foreign object into the house for the purpose of ceremony and tradition, no matter how much the dog might question your judgment or sanity. (She’s not wrong; after all, if it were normal to have a freshy-cut tree in the house, we’d have one all year long.)
But this year, I don’t think it was simply the “thing to say.” Joan was right, I think this year’s tree is the best one we’ve ever had. It’s fuller and straighter and greener than past models. And, after we placed it in the stand and stood it up, we didn’t have to rotate it and eyeball it like in previous years to determine its “best side,” the portion visible to those passing by or sitting in its direct line of sight.
Moments after Joan’s astute comment and my nodding assent, I chimed in with my own comment, one I couldn’t resist yet probably should have. “It's the nicest tree no one will ever see.”
It was an off-hand remark, but true. Other than our family, this year no one will see this beautiful (and beautifully decorated) tree, not in person, anyway.
As soon as the words left my mouth, I wanted to jam them back in (not uncommon for me), and I waited a beat to see how Joan would react. Thankfully, she didn’t call me on it, though she had every right, and had she, I had no defense for it. After all, regardless of the situation, the arrival of a tree at Christmas is always a special occasion, a tradition we hold dearly.
But there I was, jamming my foot directly into my mouth, in a manner analogous to asking woman her due date only to find out she’s not pregnant.
I mean, Joan had just said something so positive, so upbeat and hopeful, and I had completely “Scrooged” the moment, and potentially the remainder of the day.
Instead, she just sighed one of those “I know what you mean” laughs and put her arm around my waist as we stood there quietly. I don’t know what Joan was thinking at that moment, but I can guess it was a lot of the same things that were bouncing around in my head.
For me, it was a lot of “I wish …” statements, things we’ve all heard, said or felt too many times over the past eight or nine months for me to rehash here. You know them, and you’ve no doubt felt them as well. Maybe you’re feeling them right now.
For the record, I wasn’t trying to dampen the mood, I was simply stating fact, identifying the elephant in the room, the only thing bigger and more out of place at that moment than a tree in the house.
And while I still wish I had kept my comment to myself and simply let “I think this is the best one we’ve ever had” ring throughout our home without rebuttal, it was out there, and I couldn’t take it back.
However, two things are true in this scenario. First, this tree is without question the best one we’ve ever, and second, this year won’t be the best Christmas ever.
I hope not, anyway.
What I do hope and expect, however, is that we’ll adapt and find ways to make Christmas 2020 special, fun and joyful, and I’m confident we will. We’ll get together, in person with those in our “bubble” and via video or voice call with those that aren’t.
We’ll stay close to home to protect ourselves and others, and like the Haznaws do, wish for peace on Earth and goodwill to all, regardless of what holidays you celebrate, the color of your skin, your economic status, your “first language” or your political leaning.
While I still regret the comment, I don’t regret believing that this won’t be our best Christmas. How can it be? Depending on your perspective, we’re either choosing or being made to remain separate from so many of those we love, and to alter or forgo lifelong (and in some cases, generations-long) traditions and ceremonies, the very people and things that make so many holidays and special occasions “the best we’ve ever had.”
Do I want to have the best Christmas we’ve ever had? Yes, but not this year. This year, I want to adapt and adjust, to be safe and healthy, to reach out in any way I can to be with family and friends, and to do whatever I need to do in my own head and heart to make this the “best Christmas it can be.”
And then, I want to bank those memories from this year, so I never, ever take for granted the people, the traditions, the ceremonies, the laughter and the togetherness we’ve enjoyed on so many “normal” holidays and special occasions throughout our lives. And by doing so, we can guarantee that next year will most definitely be “the best we’ve ever had.”
We’ve all been through so much together, even when our opinions or actions seem miles apart. It’s time to be honest with ourselves, but also to be hopeful, and to truly believe our best is out there and within reach.
I have a tree that tells me we can.
© 2020 David R. Haznaw