“So sorry you missed Christmas—just sending a belated holiday wish! Good luck in St. Louis. You will be a smashing success! Much love, Mom”
I found the letter tucked in the side of my carry-on bag while waiting at the gate for a connecting flight. Little snowmen adorned the front of the envelope. The scribbles were familiar; they’ve been stretching across my memories for years.
She must have tucked the card, wedged it deep, when I wasn’t looking. When I was packing a bag or fixing my hair in the mirror. With every letter she leaves for me to find, my mama says “Carry me with you. I want to go wherever you’re going. I want to see whatever you’re seeing.”
“I feel like I already missed Christmas,” I said, tracing circles in the carpet just the night before. “I feel like it’s already gone.”
“You’re being super dramatic,” she answered. I’m always super dramatic.
But there is something about this time of the year. How furious it seems to bustle in and out. How it breathes and quickens and tears like wrapping paper off the sides of us. How we always say, “I’ll be ready for it this year. I’ll be ready for it this year.” How we are never fully ready or maybe we’re not even sure what to be ready for. Would we even know slowness if it filled our lungs?
I want silent nights this year. I want silent nights.
My secret fear is that I’ll miss life.
That I’ll miss this thing we’re always dissecting so adamantly in deep conversations and blog posts. That I’ll look up suddenly and realize I missed the stitching; how I wanted so desperately to make a quilt, and yet I never slowed enough to learn how to make a sturdy stitch. That I won’t be the person I have always wanted to be. That I won’t remember to call when I think I should. That I will miss the things—little and big—that make other people say out loud, in the holding spots of the November air, “This made everything worth it.” I want things like that. The things that make everything undeniable and unexplainable but worth it.
It’s been a constant clatter of travel lately. This writing space easily feels a bit neglected when there are 80,000 words of a memoir lining up to take their place. I’ve been ping-ponging around the country since August, and it’s sincerely very hard to find inspiration to write in airports. I get too wrapped up in the waiting periods of other people. I imagine too many love stories about people I’ll never meet. I secretly date the beautiful boys in bright green uniforms that stand by the gate and wait to board. They don’t know it, but they have bought me sunflowers and I have kissed their cheeks.
It takes extra sorts of concentration to quiet my spirit in an airport because I feel this binding pressure to be calling someone or filling them in. There’s this pressure to be racing back home because maybe, maybe I can barrel through the gate just five minutes sooner.
Bear with me. I’m still trying to write to you. Tucked in a corner. Pursing a red cup between my hands. Letting classical Christmas trickle through my headphones and whisper to me softly, “You’ll be home soon, darling. You don’t need to rush.”
I’m watching other people wait for something. All around me. People at the door. Flights in the crooks of the terminals. Restless to get somewhere and go somewhere and be somewhere and leave somewhere. And it takes every ounce of human in me not to grab the shoulders of people I’ve never seen before and shake them good. Grab them with an urgency and just admit to someone, “I’m scared of missing the point. I’m scared of always rushing to get somewhere, onto the next somewhere, that I never fully arrive anywhere.”
When my fingers were tiny and all my world was a slow ballad of princess dresses and Lincoln Logs, I used to gush over a storybook version of the “12 Days of Christmas.” I gushed over whoever sang that little song, whoever that Someone was who was just so lucky to have a “true love” that gave her so many gifts. So many rings. So many swans. So many milkmaids.
I would go page by page, taking time to count the lords-a-leaping. Memorizing the grins of the pipers piping. Soaking in all the wonder of the partridge sitting triumphantly in his pear tree, crowing (or whatever partridges do), “I’m the b-o-s-s. I’m the first gift that started this mayhem.” And there was enough time to count everything. To notice everything. To spoon your hot cocoa between your two hands and know, without really knowing it, that you weren’t missing a thing.
When did I stop counting?
When did life get so busy that I stopped counting all the blessings, all the gifts that leap and dance around me?
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I could feel God breathing when I arrived in St. Louis yesterday morning.
I could feel Him breathing as we shoved my suitcase into the car and drove along the streets while a girl with a lace dress and chocolate-brown tights told me the history of a city she’s grown up in all her life. And I felt God saying, “This is life, my girl. This is life. You don’t need to be somewhere. You don’t need to hustle. You don’t need to hurry. I just want you to suck this moment in good. And I want you to pay attention to this girl and the people I will give you in the next few hours. And I want you to say thank you when we are done.”
That’s all God is asking of us at any given moment: To suck in what is what right before us—what He has placed there so intentionally—and then say thank you. Because it’s simple. And it’s true. And it’s a gift we forget to find the gratitude for. And it fills us so much more mightily than the fears and worries we stack inside ourselves when we think this day-to-day is about getting “stuff” done.
He gives me a thousand tiny, glittering objects within a single day. A thousand, a thousand. And I’m just stomping my feet and crossing my arms and waiting for something better. Something that doesn’t shimmer and doesn’t shine, but it makes me feel legitimate and “known.” I muddy up the simple roads with wheels that turn too fast. And He? Well He just smiles and shakes his head, as if to say, “Girl, take your shoes off. Let the mud sink around your heels. Dance a little, girl. It won’t kill you stop in this moment, but, girl, you’ll miss it something fierce when it’s finally gone.”
And so I start to count. Because He has given me a thousand glittering objects to count.
“Life wasn’t what I thought it would be.”
Maybe I will say that when they’re hooking me up to oxygen, and I’m so frail and old and ready to have my Jack and Rose “meeting by the big clock” moment up in heaven.
“It was colors and fragile faces and brilliant stories that only made me feel human when I stopped sprinting so furiously to just notice it all. Oh, there were colors. Oh, there were sounds. It was flashing all around me, and I didn’t always see it. No, I didn’t always see it.
“It was about choosing people. It was about choosing people when choosing people was just so damn hard. Because it would have been so much easier to choose 1,000 objects over a single soul that cries and doubts and wants and questions and challenges. Flesh and grace was all that was ever worth it, though. Flesh and grace and resilience that sang like a battle cry.”
Maybe I’ll be that eloquent when they hold my hand and tell me I am dying. I want to be able to say I heard the bells in all my favorite songs. Clink. Clink. Clink. Dripping into the backgrounds of all my favorite melodies. I want to say I didn’t miss the bells.
This season is a slow breather. Slower than you’d think. You’re gonna have to stop. You’re gonna have to look around. You’re gonna have to slow a little, too.
Find someone who’s been good to you—all sorts of sweet to you all this time—and grab their hand and say, “Let’s count the glittering objects tonight. And all the swans. And all the turtle doves. One by one. We have the time. We have all the time we thought we never had. Let’s just pretend that it can’t get better than this right here.”
Hannah Brencher is a writer, speaker, and creator pinning her passion to projects that bring the human touch back into the digital age. After spending a year writing and mailing over 400 love letters to strangers across the world, Hannah launched The World Needs More Love Letters in August 2011—a global organization fueled by volunteer “letter writers,” now in fifty states and forty-seven countries. She’s been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Oprah, Glamour, the White House Blog, and is currently a global finalist for the TED2013 Global Talent Search (watch the TED Talk). You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
*Image courtesy of gingerkatie2006.