A couple of months ago, Noel and I went to Seattle to see youngest son, Casey, Kylene and baby Margot. As we were standing in line waiting for a table at Pike Place Pub, Kylene fingered Casey’s thread bare shirt jacket and frayed collar. “I could get you a new one,” she offered. I saw the window shade lower over his eyes, but as usual I charged right in to help Kylene. I helpfully said, “I could re-work the collar band and cuffs. It would still be the same comfy shirt…just look a bit more presentable.” I saw the window shade lower even more. “Consider it,” I said. The shade drew completely shut.
He’s been like this since, well…. always. Change, new, different were all enemies when he was a child. I flashed back to his grade school years. He wore the same grey fleece pullover every day for two years. Often, I had to wash it after he went to bed at night. Even though we cajoled, plead and finally threatened, he wore it for his school pictures. At the time I thought it was a travesty. Now, I look at this blonde child smiling broadly for the camera and realize I wouldn’t have it any other way. He could smile because that old, grey fleece gave him comfort. And here he is, nearly thirty years old, still clinging to the familiar, the routine, the known.
Unfortunately, I know he gets this from me in a condensed and distilled form. My life is marked with the routine—the same blue coffee mug for my tea, the same meal of egg and toast to start my day; my favorite, very old snow boots. I’ve always found comfort in the familiar. Routine is the skeleton of my soul. It sustains me when I confront challenges, meet new people, or when I am unsure of my direction.
Noel told me once that when he was growing up the Christmas tree was never the same. One year it would have all pink ornaments, the next year all blue with no pink ornament to ever be seen again. Really?? People live like this? He explained that they moved almost every year with his father being in the Air Force and all. He guesses that things as inconsequential as Christmas ornaments were simply left behind.
How differently I grew up. A couple of weeks ago I boxed up the same manger that graced the coffee table when I was six. The tree was decorated with felt ornaments I made in high school. Ceramic choir boys from the Woolworths store are displayed every year. In reality, I count on these routines that have developed into rituals. As eager as I am every year to put all of this away, I imagine myself pulling it all out again so that we can drink eggnog from the Santa Claus mugs as we do every year. I’ll smile as I remember the year that Roman, the Rottweiler ate the sheep out of the manger scene and likely I’ll make the same comment I always do, “We’re just grateful he didn’t eat the baby Jesus.” In fact, I count on these rituals to support me, to soothe me and to mark the passing of time.
And now, as another New Year is upon us, I realize that I know very little about the coming days. I can plan for and count on certain events, but really anything could happen. None of us ever knows with certainty what lies ahead. But I do know that forming the structure of my days will be the familiar, the old and the comfortable. And, God willing, we’ll celebrate the births of three new children into our family this year. We’ll hold them close and cherish their freshness. They will challenge us to be bigger and better. But then in turn, we will give them stability by introducing them to the rituals that make our family our own.
And some day, I will come upon them on their knees, as if in prayer, playing with the wise men and the baby Jesus. I imagine myself pausing for a moment as I realize that the only real constant in life is that it is constantly moving.
And also that by any measure, life can be really, really good.