This is the Christmas where I lost a dear piece of furniture — which seems perfect for this strange Christmas season.
I was sitting down in a chair at the apartment Tuesday night when one of the legs just ripped apart in a tear. It is a wooden swivel chair that is authentic, as it went back to my grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s business, Davis Auto Parts, probably in the 1940s or so. It was sturdy and seemed built to last forever. Despite being hard wood, it was contoured in the seat area and everyone swore it was the most comfortable chair in the apartment, even without a cushion. But it always served to remind me of my family.
And now, that too is gone. (Or it will be. As I write this Tuesday night, I am looking across the room as it tilts forward in its damage.)
In fact, two years after Mom’s death, my father and I feel somewhat odd this season, somewhat to my surprise. We didn’t even put up Christmas decorations in our respective homes. I can’t say I watched much in holiday TV fare or went to many events. It didn’t feel right this year.
Most of our family on either side is just about gone. Mom’s brother is in a nursing home in Montgomery and Dad’s brother and his wife live in the Huntsville area. We visited Dad’s brother last weekend, and Dad talked to the brother-in-law on the phone. It is the closest to a family gathering we will have now, a far cry from when we would make separate visits to each set of my grandparents. There were many times we gathered with plenty of great-aunts and great-uncles to go around, with a uncle or cousin thrown in sometimes. There was talk of politics, old war stories, family stories, and so on, while we went through a large meal in front of us, with urgings from the host to get more. (I many times did, except for sweet tea prepared by Mom’s mother, as the tea seemed to have an entire bag of Domino’s poured into each glass. Even Mom couldn’t drink much of it.)
But that all seems like a distant memory for Dad and I. We don’t even try to cook Christmas Day. We will likely seek out a restaurant. (Shoney’s, which still has restaurants in the Florence area, will likely be where we will go, as they have a buffet. It is hard to find anything outside of fast food and breakfast restaurants.)
And it is not just loss that makes this season strange. It seems fitting for a strange Christmas season which seems upside down. No doubt, the Senate campaign almost negated that feel-good atmosphere for Christmas. And Christmas seems to come faster and faster for those with an AARP card; so many events were happening to cover and distract us, that the holiday just seemed to swoop in quickly. I seemed too busy. I didn’t feel that great at times anyway, ranging from a cold all of Thanksgiving to outright pain. And I can mention all the other stresses that are usually on our minds, but seem magnified while everyone pushes Hallmark movies and Santa.
I think others have been as rushed as I have this season. The most I did was to send out Christmas cards, although the return rate has been on the low end. I won’t lie and say I have been ecstatically happy this season.
Then again, in what I have called an Era of Discontent for our nation, I think others have been miserable as well. We’ve had Trump, sex scandals, harsh politics, North Korea and Russia, lost businesses, natural disasters — the list seems to go on.
It reminds me of World War II, when the soldiers clammered at USO shows for songs that were sadder in melody and sentiment, such as “White Christmas.” (Bing Crosby admitted during a wartime radio broadcast he would try to beg off while entertaining troops, thinking it was too sad, but the soldiers insisted on the song.) Certainly, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is hardly a merry melody. Twice it talks about “our troubles” going away, which hints at something in the present.
So what can one make of this at Christmas?
Well, first, let us remind ourselves that not all is sad. Let us remember the overall economy continues to improve for Walker County and the state and nation. Some of us may even see some coming tax decreases (albeit for a few years on the lower end).There are technological advances in our devices that I find fascinating (not the least of which is taking photos on a Nikon and seeing the photos show up almost instantly on my iPhone). There seems to be an increased awareness of the need to participate in democracy and current events.
On my end, I must admit I am financially advancing some in my new position; a $100 bill is not the catastrophe it used to be. It has been an exciting year for my career, and many of you have been nice to give encouraging remarks. I do find myself closer to some friends to visit, when possible. Not everything is perfect and I see where we can do better (including me), but overall the Daily Mountain Eagle has had an encouraging year in its operations, and, under Publisher James Phillips, seems primed to take further advancements down the road. Despite all cracks I make about him (especially when he dresses up like an elf or finds the makeup kit to make himself look like the Walking Dead), I am proud of the success he has made with the newspaper. In fact, the industry seems to be getting closer to understanding its role in the digital age, as the New York Times is particularly leading the way to show how to be profitable in the digital age.
In the end, though, the most important point at this season is that God is very much in play. While it seems the world is off its axis, God has seen some other pretty bad seasons in the past, ranging from slavery to Hitler to Depression. Several pastors I have heard of late, some on my travels, have reminded me that God is not remote or uncaring. In fact, the baby we celebrate this season grew up to go through the agony of the cross to prove He did love us and care for us. And just when I think I am at an end, there is some word or action that God uses to bless me and remind me I am not alone. He does not say the journey will be easy, but the journey is not alone.
I am sad on a lot of counts this season — and now because I lost my chair. But the Throne still stands firm. The One who sits in it, whom we celebrate this season, still is with us, has conquered death, and cares about our struggles.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. (Isaiah 43:2) Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7) Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
So, as we approach Christmas, let us remember what we celebrate in this season. We may not snap to attention with complete and overwhelming joy, but let us take our comfort from the Christ child who became our Savior. And let us take comfort from one another, if we dare to reach out to each other, as love conquers all in our troubled civilization.
It may be too much to say, have yourself a merry little Christmas or to say all your troubles next year will be far from sight. But for those of you in that sadder state of mind, I can only say I understand and that I wish you comfort, love, hope and peace in Christ, as He wishes that for you. And that is why we celebrate Christmas.
Ed Howell is the Daily Mountain Eagle’s news editor.