Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Echoes Of Holidays Past

This is the first Christmas season that I am spending without my mom. Everyone told me it would be really hard on me. In a way, it really has. In another way, though, it hasn't.

It has been hard because this time of year seems to be one full of nostalgia, a time where the stories and memories of the past (holiday-related and otherwise) are very much at hand. It is no different for me. It does not help, therefore, that mose of these stories and memories involve my mom.

It has also been hard because, although we are doing much as we have in the past, it is simply not the same nor will it ever be, I imagine. We decided to go ahead with Christmas Eve at our house. The house is cleaned (almost), the food is all set, the guests are invited and everything seems to be in hand. Yet, in a really big way, it just does not feel right.

My mom coordinated these events in the best way possible - she made it look really easy. I guess in helping to spearhead the effort this year, I realize how much my mom did and it just makes me miss her all the more.

This point, though, relates to one way in which things have not been as hard as they could be. There is comfort in carrying on, in doing all of those things that we have always done. Getting out the same old decorations, setting up the same old tree, preparing the same old food - these actions give a sense of continuity, a feeling of connectedness with all those memories and stories that are so much a part of who I am.

As a historian, history and memory are my stock-in-trade (I happen to think they are very different from each other, but that is for another time). In my professional life, I (and other academic historians) treat the past as a subject of interest, a battleground for personal biases, a grand interpretive puzzle and a constant source of reconsideration and argumentation. I have been tempted to treat my own history in the same manner. I cannot, and especially not now, come to do this just yet. Perhaps I never will and perhaps this is for the best.

For now, I will allow the past to give me the comfort that it has done and continue to consider what role it will play in whatever normal life will be like from now on.

In closing, and in relation to these reflections, an excerpt from a short story has been much on my mind recently. These thoughts on the season and the past coupled with staring out at the weather we have had in Chicago to bring the last sentences of "The Dead" from James Joyce's The Dubliners very much into focus recently. I will leave you with that and my wish that you draw comfort and strength from your past this holiday season.

  • "A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

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