December 30, 2009.
This year, happiness had to find me.
For a lot of reasons this has always been my favorite season. Maybe because I was adopted right before Christmas, and each year (although they never told me exactly why until I was 10 years old), my parents celebrated my "half birthday" on December 18th. Between that, the Christmas holiday which took over the New York and Brooklyn of my childhood, and our own eight-day celebration of Chanukah, no matter what my mood had been before Thanksgiving, it always changed right afterwards.
I associate the month of December with being happy.
But this year, the happiness had to come looking for me. I had wonderful plans for Thanksgiving: to spend it with a wonderful family eating vegetarian "To-furkey" and being entertained by their two tiny children, who are among my particular favorite humans on this planet. The children would have made all adult conversation impossible, and I would have come away from the dinner with wild cries ringing in my ears, (the boy has just discovered trucks, a word which he can now say in two languages), with happy memories, and with a wonderful meal of tofurkey and perfectly roasted yams -- my favorite.
But the fates had ordered otherwise. The week before the holiday I began to get sick. I did everything I knew to forestall the oncoming cold; I knew it wasn't flu because I had had all my shots. I didn't have a fever and I was happy to find that I still had an appetite, proof positive that I wasn't REALLY sick. But when the Day arrived I realized I was too sick to cough and sneeze on two little creatures, one almost three and the other, barely one year old, who would inevitably be vulnerable to the myriad of germs streaming from Aunt Mimi's nose and mouth.
So I gave up. No Thanksgiving for me. The cat and I ate yams and acorn squash at home, (except she had her favorite hypo-allergenic duck dinner; my cat has allergies), and I waited to feel the inevitable depression and sense of loss.
It came, but not as powerfully as I had feared. And then again, a good friend arrived in the Bay Area from New York, en route to points South, on a reading tour of his new collection of poetry, translations of Mexican and Cuban poets of note -- and I thought, well, that will be fun. (Perhaps not as much as the babies, but we had lots to talk about and he promised to bring Chinese food).
Except that I was too sick to see him too, and instead spent the night wrapped in sweaty blankets and wondering whether or not I really DID have the dreaded flu, despite my shots.
The weeks wound on; I was invited to and had to refuse parties. I did find the energy to go to one -- it was delightful -- but I could hardly eat anything and came home feeling worse than ever, even though caring friends had driven me there and back through the pouring rain. And all around myself, along with the bright faces of people I liked immensely, or even loved, I could see traces of the tension that seems threatening to engulf the world: the economy is terrible, people are losing jobs, books aren't getting published (including mine, so far at least), and global warming threatens more and more substantially to turn our whole world upside down. On top of which, we have recently bombed the moon -- in search of water? -- and I swear that when I look at it, I see the scars.
But just before Christmas, as I was lighting both the lights on my small tree and the candles in my Chanukah menorah, I began to feel strangely quiet. I had been home alone, teaching my writing classes online and reading book after book for the annual NCBR competition. Tranquility settled into my daily routine like a kind of balm. My anxieties disappeared. My best friend of many years was recovering in New York. My cat slept in my arms or in her heated basket, recovered from all her ailments of the previous year as well. And although I coughed and sneezed like an angry volcano and spread a blanket of tissues like snowdrifts around the apartment, my house itself seemed filled with light; in the daytime by the strained sunlight that struggled through the clouds, and at nights, by my holiday offerings, the tree, the candles, soothing me as they glowed.
Even before I was well enough to go outside, I began to feel healed. My appetite had returned. I slept dreamlessly and woke up smiling. When I was finally able to buy groceries and a few Christmas presents (for the babies, of course), it was as if everything I needed came easily into my hands. I had learned something, I thought. Even though I had been sick and exhausted with a racking cough, even though this year I hadn't been able to go out and look for happiness, somehow it had come looking for me anyway. And it had found me, alone in my quiet apartment, under the five quilts on my incredibly comfortable bed, reading and listening to music with the cat in my arms.
I can only say thank you for the gift.