I’m giddy as a little girl, walking quickly, heels pounding the midtown cement as we near Ave of the Americas. It’s early on a Saturday, and my red hair bounces with newly fashioned curls. I’m bundled in my coat, but warm all over.
“Any idea where I am taking you?”
My niece, rushing along beside me shakes her teenage head, smiling as she tries to figure out the surprise awaiting her. And then we walk up to the giant facade, the Christmas tree rising from the marquee and the red lights proclaiming its pure New York history, Radio City Music Hall.
My niece jumps at me into a tight hug, and starts proclaiming ecstatic joy, reminding me she still has the Rockette Barbie doll I gave her last time I did the show with all the cast signatures on the box. My eyes widen with the memory, buying the doll with the eager intention to share the experience with her, as she wasn’t able to see me perform. She was 11 then, and now stands before me a young woman.
We rush into the spacious and opulent lobby, moving into the glitter of the chandeliers and the deep rich red lining the floors and stairs.
As we sit in our seats, Santa calls from his sleigh, beckoning all to join with his benevolent laugh. I take in the sudden enormity of the stage, the surging orchestra, sharing the show with my niece, and tears begin to fall steadily onto my cheeks, reflecting the bright holiday lights. I wasn’t sure if I would ever make it here.
Last November, I was coming out of therapy and walking towards Madison Square Park. Decorations were going up all over the city for the holiday season, and I was feeling like a foreigner in a familiar land. As I walked past the Flatiron Building a giant sign stood in my path.
Except it was upside down.
I stopped and took a picture of the sign, and identified with its basic visual. I felt completely wrong side up. I wasn’t feeling the joy of the season, nor excitement at candy canes, gifts, and wreaths. From Halloween to New Years Day had always been my favorite time of year, filled with Christmas music on endless play from my headphones, and now there was an empty void. I felt as though I was watching it all from an arm’s length, protecting myself from the traumatic memory of my Christmas before when I crawled on the floor and cried out to God.
I was legally divorced now, but the anniversary of my undoing was still so fresh in my bones and heart.
I wanted to survive my first single Christmas, but it felt all wrong from the 15 years prior.
My family community surrounded me with incredible support and love over the holiday, allowing me to cry, to grieve, and form new memories. We spent two weeks with my aunt and uncle in San Diego and the sunshine and new surroundings were a vital balm to my ache, allowing space for whatever arose.
In early January, I went to pick up my food order from the Astoria Arrow CSA through Lewis Waite Farm, a local organic provider. The coordinators were an adorable older couple, and I had enjoyed a few conversations with them on our monthly meetings while I picked up my eggs, meat, butter, and bread.
The husband invited me in. “I want to show you something”
He took me to a back room, still alight with the family’s holiday decorations, and on the side wall strung up was a Christmas tree.
Except it was upside down.
”That’s just how I feel this year. I wanted to show it to you. We’re going to be moving from this house soon and I’ve lived in it most of my life.”
This man knew nothing of my past, nothing of my story, and yet, I stood stock still taking in the synchronicity of our stories, his instinct to connect, and simply breathed, “I know exactly how you feel.”
As the holiday season approached this year, I felt an open space, and a curiosity towards the decorations and lights as they appeared on my block and in the stores. I did most of my Christmas shopping early, but my apt remained untouched, still holding the pumpkins and gourds from October and November.
My niece’s visit put me into high gear, and I decided to take the plunge with buying tickets to the Christmas Spectacular. I hadn’t seen the show in about 4-5 years, and I knew it would completely surprise her. I bought a little live tree that came attached with a base for water, and brought it home amidst stiff cold December winds, blowing light snow into my hood.
I pressed play on Harry Connick Jr., and soon my little sanctuary was filled with joyous horns, drums, and holiday beats. I took down my decoration containers and began to replace the pumpkins with angels and reindeer.
I recalled decorating our family tree as a child, opening the boxes of each ornament from its dusty home, having taken a year-long nap. I used to assess the green branches, and place the hanging gold accordingly on the pine, stopping to inhale the fragrant smell, and eagerly awaiting the long strands of tinsel my mother would wrap as she stood on a step ladder.
As I unwrapped each of my ornaments from their tissue, I placed them on my counter and then turned to hang them in kind, seeking balance in these small branches.
Once my tree was done, I sat down to take it in, and an elf caught my eye, at the very top of the branches, his arms stretched out straight from his sides, with each palm facing up holding a gift.
And then I remembered.
Tears streamed down my face. This is what I had forgotten, the offering of the season, the practice of giving, of stretching your arms jubilantly from your body, and placing within them your intentions and gratitude to those around you. He stood, illuminated by the white bulb of my icicle strand, so tiny in the green. He was absolutely perfect.
I looked on top of my microwave at my mini toy Charlie Brown Christmas tree with Linus’ baby blue blanket wrapped around the base, and decided to take away the green dish towel circled at the foot of my tree. I opened my cabinet and withdrew the two blue holiday napkins patterned with silver thread that had lay dormant for two years. Carefully tucking the edges around the water well, I wrapped my little tree.
The card shop is full of winter coats, scarves, and squeezed shoulders. Christmas is a week away, and I’m buying cards for my mother, my father, and my brother. I walk to the Christmas section and my eyes scan the glitter, reds, and deep greens shining from the individual plastic sleeves. The incoming afternoon sun glances off a flash of gold, and I reach for the card just above my eyes to see a Christmas tree beautifully embossed in linen white.
Except it’s upside down.
I stop for a moment, and then smile, as I realize the card was merely placed that way. I reach up and turn the rectangular greeting so the words can be read right side up, clearly, and in gold.