Between the strike of the match and the flare of the candle, I’ve written a masterful book in my head and forgotten half of it before my pen could move. Waiting for the computer to rev up, I revised my protagonist’s dilemma but couldn’t recall my brilliant narrative when the blank page begged for words. Driving to work I resolved the plot glitch that had given me fits for the past four months. Finally home, I couldn’t order the words into sensible phrases. Dinner, if made at all, congeals in the microwave, the bills are lost in the “urgent” pile on my desk, I must ready a lesson for tomorrow’s class, and my book waits like the ugly stepsister for her dance with the prince. One more night late to bed, tired in morning to rise, my muse yawns away inspiration with every open mouth. The life of this writer: to think at lightning speed and write at a snail’s pace. To be so busy with everyday chores that the business of writing doesn’t get done on a regular basis.
For all the ordinary problems I confront every day, there are many I needn’t worry about: That a radical vigilante will set our home aflame, forcing my family to become refugees from our own country. That the drug cartels that have made kidnapping a national pastime in some states in Mexico will target my family. That the aids or Ebola viruses rampant in Africa will leave my young grandchildren hungry orphans at the side of road. The unpredictable violence in other countries is a galaxy away from the insulated world of my American household.
Sadly, too many friends await lab reports, anxiously interpreting numbers of diseased cells on the wane or rise. Others mourn the loss of loved ones deceased decades earlier than the full measure of years once expected. Limbs born agile for some now move with spastic jerks, frustrating the intelligent minds of those afflicted. Severe accidents or illnesses have left several close friends with cataclysmic changes that threaten their longevity and the quality of life left to them. But none of these are my problems. I am merely sympathetic.
I do face genuine issues of pressing weight. My mother suffers from a loss of memory so grievous that should I leave the room for a short time, she will greet me as though I’ve been long lost when I return. The expectations of my new job require my attention in ways I didn’t expect when I was hired a year ago and I struggle to meet their standards. My youngest son and his family live so far away that their baby has no idea he is a part of my life, that he is my youngest grandson. Still, I’m grateful for this job, thankful that my mom is still alive, thrilled for my sons and their families and their opportunities.
It isn’t just that I sometimes waste time, later to regret that I didn’t write when I had the time. It’s that I rarely appreciate the boring normality of my life that provides margins thick with nothing so urgent to do as to turn on my computer and write. I am going to eat tomorrow, more than I should or need, and go to work at a job I love. The buses will run on time, even though I don’t have to take them because I own a car. My husband and I have grown up together and now we are growing old together. Our sons remain heart-close to us, their families providing the emotional rock on which I anchor. Predictability is practically a family member and I have little that is critical I must face every day. The barriers to writing success that I face are mostly internal, a lack of organization I need to address. Only I can overcome them and one day I will.
I’ve learned finally, am still learning, something really important. I cannot wallow in the anger I felt over a childhood wrecked with violence and uncertainty. The only way I can live, not merely survive but live, is to forgive and be gracious. It’s better for me to reach beyond myself and be a better person. This season, celebrated in many ways by so many of different faiths, reminds me that I have more learning to achieve, more giving to grant. What I write reflects what I’ve learned, I hope.
At these holidays of glitz and glory, fashion and faith, I will celebrate with my family, four generations that have learned to tolerate others and value our unique “I-ness” and to treasure our unique “we-ness.” I’ll travel from house to house, sharing feasts, regaling in the joy of the youngest among us and the presence of the most aged. I’ll visit friends and stay late to hear all the jokes and stories. The gifts we’ll exchange are small compared to the luxury of our lives. I am lucky to have enough that we can and do give to those who are needy. I am loved and I love. I wish the same for you.
I will light Hanukkah candles. You will light candles of your own. May the flames cast enough brightness that we can all see more clearly exactly what needs to get done, what needs to be written. And then may we do it.