I blink, and it's December.
Days have become a blur of routine: thawing meat for the dogs, feeding, scooping, miles behind my team, repeat.
Ever since I started preparing to move here, I've felt such a strong urge to rid myself of "stuff." Though all I packed to come to this quaint, 16x20 cabin in the northwoods fit in a 5x8 Uhaul trailer, I find I am still compelled to lighten my load even more. There are so few things that mean much to me anymore, and I find myself full of gratitude for the simple things I have. Friday brought a cord of kiln-dried hardwood, some propane, and some groceries. And I am gracious.
It occurs to me that this is the quintessential antithesis of December in America.
If I am honest, I haven't been thinking too much of Christmas. Except when I have to drive to town for groceries or other supplies. Then the Christmas music assaults my senses.
Perhaps the intended purpose of Christmas music is to remind us, as we stroll down aisles with shopping carts, to buy stuff.
But Christmas music reminds me of home.
Home isn't necessarily a place on a map for me.
Home is a place in my heart where the people I love reside. Some of those people live in Ohio. Some of those people live in Michigan. Some of those people live in other places altogether.
It was January when my grandmother died.
She had spent her last birthday, which also happened to be Christmas, in the hospital. She was dying. We all knew it.
I went to see her one snowy day in December. She lay in that hospital bed, small, frail, full of angles and hollow spaces where once there were curves and life. Her skin was like paper.
I watched her breathe: shallowly, slowly, half expecting the next breath not to come. But after long pause, the course draw of her inhale made its way back.
Her eyes fluttered lightly in sleep. What did she dream about, there at the end of her life? On the threshold of death, did she dream of my grandfather? Did she dream of driving? She never had driven in life. Was she haunted on her death bed by the dreams unfulfilled in life?
Snow fell as we drove to the cemetery near her house. Her pale blue casket was suspended above the open grave, and we gathered around it that January day. My sisters, aunts, uncles, parents and cousins had all turned out for the ceremony. I watched my aunt sob as the pastor said The Lord's Prayer, the skin on her hands like paper.
Days flow. Life is a blur. Suddenly we're dreaming of the things we never did, the things we never took the time - or the chances - to do. Like being honest with our loved ones. Like being honest with ourselves.
Don't wait. Things don't matter. What lives in our hearts - those things that make us swoon and sob and smile - those things matter.
The poet Ryokan said,
"We meet only to part,
Coming and going like white clouds,
Leaving traces so faint
Hardly a soul notices."
How will you spend your days? Will you leave a trace?