On Saturday, I decided I should hang Christmas lights. I don’t get serious about them — I am not one of those people with decorations on the roof and lit-up lawn displays of Santa and all his reindeer — but I do have a few strings of blue and white danging icicles that stretch across the front of the house. I also have incredible scratchy hedges that protect the front of the house from people wanting to do stupid things like paint or hang lights. But I dragged out the ladder and the step-stool and the lights and tried to find the nails that we put up last year.
Hanging lights is one of those chores that reminds me how my life has not turned out the way I expected it to. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, I don’t even think about being single. Solitude doesn’t feel “alone” to me, it feels normal. But hanging lights and putting air in the car’s tires makes me bizarrely resentful. Where is the partner who is supposed to be taking care of these chores? How come he never showed up? This year, I tried to convince R to help me but he was so passive-aggressively hostile to the idea, in the way that only a teenager can be, that I gave up on him. But I grumbled as I hung the lights. An extra ten inches of height and another pair of hands would have made it so much easier.
And then I kicked a hole in my wall.
I was trying to balance on the edge of the window to reach a spot that I couldn’t get to on the ladder because a dying tree is in the way. I feel guilty about the stupid tree because the lawn people write me notes telling me that I need to treat the trees because they are sick. The notes are nice notes, they point out that trees are expensive and that treating the trees is cheaper than replacing the trees, but I can’t afford to treat the trees and so I ignore the notes. And I ignore the tree. But when it’s in my face while I try to get a ladder past it in order to hang Christmas lights, it’s tough not to notice the yellowing leaves, the brown spots, and the white spots that are probably hatching bugs.
I was doing a good job of not noticing the tree, though, or at least of only thinking of it as an inconvenience, as I tried to squeeze past it to reach the corner of the house, so I could hang the lights. But it meant that I was balancing precariously on a very tiny ledge of brick. When I leaned too far, I… I don’t even know what happened. I am trying to picture it now, but mostly, I think my foot hit something that should have been solid and it wasn’t. The wood just crumbled away at the pressure. It wasn’t really the kick that did the deed — the wood was waiting to go.
After that, my interest in hanging lights declined to nil. I draped them across the other corner and let them hang. It is the most half-baked light hanging job ever. If light displays were graded, I’d get points for showing up, but a C for effort and a D- for execution.
But yesterday I went to church. I think I was thinking that if I can’t find the holiday spirit with lights, maybe the music of my childhood would do? It didn’t — largely because the music was not the music of my childhood. Even the offering song wasn’t the same. But the church is having a service today, this evening, a longest night service. The minister introduced it as a service for people who find the holidays hard, a moment to remember those we’ve lost and a time for quiet meditation. I’m not sure if I’ll go — I missed yoga all last week because I’ve been sick, so I’d like to get some exercise today — but I love the concept.
On this, the longest night, I remember my grandparents. I remember my mother. I remember the friends I’ve lost. I reflect on my worries — houses and trees, money and health — acknowledge them, and let them go. I think about my loved ones, with problems that I cannot control or fix, and I remind myself that those problems are not in my hands.
On the longest night, I remember that dawn will come, and that tomorrow, the night will be shorter.