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(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

Today my father-in-law Duane finished the last of his fourth round of infusion therapy. Last night he figured it up and realized that today’s treatment made number 288—to say it’s been a long year is an understatement.

And if his need for a walker didn’t get in the way, I think he might have been dancing around as the reformed Ebenezer Scrooge does in all those movies based on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol—OK, maybe that’s not quite his style but he showed obvious relief and gratitude while walking out of that hospital this morning. He was also getting fairly liberal with his “Merry Christmases” to everyone he saw.

Why believe this time he’ll be cured of his major drug-resistant infection? Because not only has a surgery removed a major obstacle for medication access, but a follow-up surgery has reduced pain in the original site as well as provided an opportunity to see in close detail how the infected area has healed. The most recent round of infusion therapy was really prescribed as a deterrent for any new infection that might occur because of the second surgery. Plus, he just looks and acts better all around, so much so that his infectious disease doctor pronounced that she had never seen him looking this good.

With infection no longer raging through his system, Duane does not seem nearly so old. He was sick (or more properly, his body has been under assault) but not necessarily in a state of inevitable decline. With the absence of constant infection and the reduction in pain, his thinking has been clear and focused. For the last few weeks, he’s been talking about trends within the family-run business and trying to figure out how to get a computer at home so he can do some work from his own four walls for now.

This long, long year of treatment after treatment is coming to a close with only a final follow-up with the spinal surgeon remaining, as well as a final follow-up with the infectious disease doctor in the new year—a new year that now promises a return to better health as well as a chance to return to contributing once more to the family business.

There are no guarantees, but my gut feeling is that his body really is healing—he really does get another chance at living well. While it might not yet be Christmas, it sure feels like it.

Forgive me, if I return to the aforementioned Ebenezer Scrooge, not because Duane was a stingy man of business, but because he has been a man of business whose body has played stingy with him and now he, like Scrooge, gets a bit of a do-over.

No, he didn’t say, “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world. Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!” (Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1994. p. 106.) However, he didn’t miss a chance to tell people his news or thank those who had helped him.

After a year like this past one, it’s a whole lot easier to understand what makes a Christmas merry and a new year happy. Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

‘Tis the season to re-read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Yes, lest we forget the lessons Ebenezer Scrooge had to learn the hard way and much too late.

Sherman and I have been reading the book out-loud this week right before bedtime. Goodness, Dickens knows how to throw in a few too many words and commas as he tells a story! Thankfully, so far neither one of us has had nightmares about ghosts visiting us on cold, snowy nights to “spirit us away” (clad only in our nightclothes) to witness the true heart of Christmas—or lack thereof. Still, we no doubt have our own bits of “undigested beef” to chew on as we reflect upon the story and how we ourselves might appear to the spirits in the tale.

When asked to contribute to buying “the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth”, how similar are our replies to Scrooge’s reply? “I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I support the establishments I have mentioned (prisons and workhouses)—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

In today’s world, there aren’t too many of Scrooge’s means—or of ours—who don’t make merry. Even Scrooge, while not exactly making merry, did have a bigger fire than the one he allowed his clerk, plus he had the means to take his meals in a tavern.

Scrooge seemed to have a great capacity for ignoring the miseries of his fellow men (and women) until Marley and the other ghosts pointed out real examples of people in need. So easy to dismiss a group in theory, but so much harder to look into someone’s eyes and see the personal suffering.

Are there people whose choices cause their personal suffering? Of course, there are. Does that mean all people suffering have only themselves to blame?

Oh, these are hard times even if so many things have improved since Scrooge’s day. We have many more safety nets available to people in our society. Still, it’s easy to think that if we can take care of our own problems, so can others—as if every single thing we’ve achieved is only the result of our own hard work and determination.

No doubt Scrooge could very truthfully point to how he kept his “tight-fisted hand at the grindstone . . . .” Yet even with his miserable upbringing, he had been provided an education and the kind of connections that allowed him to learn a trade and get ahead—there are plenty of grindstones that simply don’t achieve such high returns from the investment of hard work.

But getting that return for his work wasn’t enough for Scrooge to feel gratitude. His reaction is the typical older son’s reaction in the parable of the Prodigal Son: afraid someone else is going to get something without earning it.

Some days I am also that older son—but how often do I forget when the fatted calf has been prepared for me?

Because I do forget, I keep reading, year after year. God bless us—every one—whether we’ve earned it or not.

(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

It’s time for an “oh well, so the cake fell . . .” attitude. I am trying to channel the accepting spirit I had on my wedding day when I found out the cake had fallen. Truth is, we can either allow the little annoying things to spoil our special days, or we can look for the sorts of little things that make life worthwhile.

I am listening to carols sung by the King’s College Choir while trying to breathe deeply and remember what really matters. Not the crazy frustrations of our car locking us out of it while we scraped ice and snow from it or Discover Card shutting down our card, the one we use for prescriptions, groceries, and gas, as we stocked up on the necessities before Christmas Eve. (Turns out the card reader misread the card and triggered a fraud alert.) Not dealing with Mom’s supplemental insurance and how it makes it difficult for her providers to get paid. Not trying to get a straight answer between the doctor’s office and the satellite clinic.

No, today I need to let out a primal scream for all the frustrations of the last sixteen hours . . . and then move on.

“What’s today, my fine fellow?” said Scrooge.

“Today!” replied the boy. “Why, Christmas [Eve] Day!”

“It’s Christmas [Eve] Day!” said Scrooge to himself. “I haven’t missed it.”

Yesterday’s snows, which frosted the whole of outdoors in that wedding cake white, have ended. On this cold, crisp day, the picture postcard White Christmas sits outside our windows. Classic Colorado snow-covered peaks are juxtaposed against a blue sky that needs no photo-editing program—this is the type of view Photoshop attempts to copy or create.

Early this Christmas Eve, for the second morning in a row, Sherman and I crept out in the dark to clear snow from the parking lot and sidewalks. The untouched snow sparkled before we set to our work, clearing paths and throwing row after row of the fluffy stuff where it would pack into not-so-pristine mountains. Though my fingers tingled in the cold of pre-dawn, I gave into peacefulness during those uncomplicated moments.

(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

While pushing the snow blower, I could easily remember the joy I felt the previous night—before the car-locking incident—as our small caroling party braved the blowing snow and extreme chill, holding battery-powered pseudo-candles that lit the way but did nothing to warm our hands. Three adults, two young girls, and a whole lot of made-up words. Very few ventured into the night to seek the colors of close-by homes, glowing with the all the fantastical wattage (and preparations!) of longtime traditions dedicated to bringing light to people in our community. There was a feeling of being in the world, but not of the world, even though the north wind threatened us with major doses of reality.

No matter that we had hoped to gather the larger group for a much longer performance expedition.

We can choose to mourn the fallen cake or we can go on with the dance.

Let it not be said of us that we don’t know how to keep Christmas well—sometimes it is, indeed, the little things that make all the difference.

Tonight may we not miss celebrating, once more, that little tiny baby who came to bless us—yes—every one of us.

I am hosting the next book club and, for once, I have been stumped by what book to choose for the group. Some of the problem is that my mind feels like Swiss cheese after dealing with so many emotions/life changes in my own world. Everyone knows me as a voracious reader, but I haven’t had much of chance to be a very focused reader lately. I haven’t gotten to the library very often and I’ve been trying to buy fewer books since I don’t really have much space.

What I have been doing is picking up books around the house; however, that doesn’t mean I find those books good for discussion or for our particular group. It’s a rather diverse reading list to be sure—maybe even more eclectic than my usual choices. I re-read the whole Harry Potter series this fall. I also ended up with some of my mother’s books I haven’t read before. Christy. The Children of Henry the VIII by Alison Weir. Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Days. And, because there’s a movie coming out, I re-read my own Love in the Time of Cholera.

None of those books fits my criteria for book club. I want a book that pulls me into the story, where I can’t wait to find out what happens to the characters. On the other hand, it’s been a hard year or so—I don’t want something that is too hard on my heart. Over the last year our book club has read about war, genocide, repression of women, mental health and suicide, the pre-Civil Rights era, the Depression, you name it. Unlike my husband, I don’t mind stepping into difficult territory, as long as I can feel improvement by the end. But sometimes that improvement can be tempered by the “rest of the story,” as in knowing that the seemingly reasonable ending in The Bell Jar was followed by Sylvia Plath’s suicide soon after the book’s publication.

Then my practical side doesn’t want anyone to have to purchase a hardback book, myself included. I’d like my book to be available at the library, but most of the “it” list books are checked out, even if the libraries hold many copies.

And then, somehow, I just want the holiday season to reflect peace and goodwill. I don’t want to read something too dark in a year that has been dominated by negative headlines in the newspapers and personal turmoil in our own home. I crave something with the proverbial happy ending, but am too much of a literature major to accept a story where happiness is too easily won.

I always favor tales of redemption, but this year I personally need something in which to believe. I need to believe that problems can be resolved and perhaps I need to be reminded of people’s ability to choose good when faced with adversity.

Book club doesn’t meet until just after the new year—but before Epiphany. At least in my house we will still be celebrating Christmas. I decided I’d choose an official book, but give another option for those who want to read both.

My Christmas book of choice is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I recite lines from it no matter the season, trying to “honour Christmas in my heart and keep it all the year long,” just as Ebenezer Scrooge pledged. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, I still need to treat you with that Christmas in my heart.

I had posted on Facebook that I didn’t want any Oprah-style books where we read of an awful life and then at the end, life seems no better. My friend Dawn asked why that view is so common in modern literature.

I submit that it is because so many don’t believe in redemption and, instead, choose edginess while focusing on hopelessness. Charles Dickens didn’t shy away from hopelessness, yet he still could find redemption when redemption seemed hopeless. OK, I don’t think I’m going to choose Bleak House, Great Expectations, or anything that dark, but . . . it’s OK to be reminded of people who need help.

For that reason, in addition to A Christmas Carol, I chose Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. I haven’t read it, but my FB friend Cynthia was far from the first to recommend it to me. You can’t necessarily change the world, but you can work on changing outcomes for one person, one family, or one village at a time.

That gives me hope—and renews my spirit.

(c), 2009, Christiana Lambert

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