Last year I couldn’t bring myself to unpack any of the Christmas decorations that were stored in the garage.
I was in the midst of divorce proceedings and the thought of celebrating the holidays was too much. Not only had my marriage blown up, my oldest son had moved away and would not be home for the first time. I still needed to be upright and semi-normal for my youngest son, but my heart was not in it.
We flew to Colorado to spend time with my sister and her family instead of facing the emptiness of our house, skipping decorating here altogether.
This year, I was apprehensive about bringing down the boxes of decorations, stockings, and lights. What would I find in there that would bring back memories of when we were a cohesive family of four? What kinds of objects would I lift out of the box and be reminded of my ex-husband and happy memories of Christmases past? Would I cry when I saw his stocking? Would I weep over ornaments?
Evan was home from college at Thanksgiving and he climbed up in the rafters to get the giant box with the tree down. Then came the big box of decorations. Evan was not particularly interested in helping me decorate, and I thought it might be better if I faced the unpacking of the box by myself anyway.
I sat there in the living room, my heart beating hard. I took a deep breath and I lifted the lid of the box. There they were: the familiar ornaments, the red and white Santa hats, and the colored lights.
I lifted out decoration after decoration and looked at each one and guess what I quickly discovered? That man I was married to me didn’t have much to do with Christmas at all.
Apart from about two ornaments, all the others were ones I had purchased or my friends had given to me. My mom had made our stockings. All the lights and all the decorations were of my choosing. I had picked them out, I had brought them home, I had hung them, and I had gathered the family around them.
Yes, he would grudgingly help when I asked, but I was the one who had orchestrated everything, who had cared about it, and who had turned our living room into a sea of colored lights and had made Christmas magical for the kids when they were little.
As I looked through the box, I realized that in the past I would have never taken sole credit for making Christmas happen. I had created and guarded the picture of the happy couple who shared in the preparation for the holiday.
In short, I had not wanted to admit to myself that I had been virtually alone in the effort. Sitting there, surrounded by the contents of the box I had an odd combination of feelings. Slowly, I felt a strange sense of freedom as I finally gave myself credit for making Christmas happen at our house. However, I also had a foreboding sense of realizations to come.
I had to wonder.
What other truths await me about the relationship in which I invested thirty years of my life? In what other ways did I contort the picture to make it what I wanted it to be and not what it actually was?
There are so many other boxes to unpack, both real and metaphorical. It will take bravery and unwavering honesty to open up some of those boxes and sort through the contents. Chances are I am going to find some things that will be hard for me to face and to admit.
Scary? Yes. Painful? Yes. Worth it? Also yes.
My Christmas tree is lovely because I had the courage to open the box and deal with the contents, sorting out what was real and valuable and getting rid of those ideas that were, in the end, counterfeit.
As painful as it might be, I am determined to decorate this new life of mine with lights that not only beautify, but more importantly, illuminate.
Thanks for going on that journey with me.