The fall and early winter of 2012 was a difficult time for Renee and I. Our beloved goat Bodie had been injured out at the ranch earlier in the late summer, but she was looking good and was on the mend when suddenly she started a new decline. No one really knew what it was but she was just off, not eating much, sort of wandering aimlessly. A far cry from the wonderful goat that we came to know and love. We checked her in to the vet out in Pleasant Valley and visited her as often as possible. They brought in a specialist to see what could be done, but there was basically nothing. To add to the top of this my annual trip to the Basque Country for the Durango Azoka (book and music fair) was looming and it fell on me to leave Renee alone in the face of this crisis.
I said goodbye to Bodie in the sterile confines of a stall at the vet complex and flew away the next morning for Bilbao. I spent the Azoka and then began my round of bookstore visits and meetings that I do on these trips. I was in Donostia and the day was breaking when I got the news. The vet, with no options left, had sent Bodie home to spend her days in the comfort of our company and with her kid Casper. Renee texted in a black predawn. She was gone. She had passed away in Renee’s arms. I learned this in an antiseptic pensión, walls painted white, a tv bolted to the ceiling as though institutional. The wonderful vibrant ball of life we had raised from Day 1 of her life was gone. The winter dawns in the Basque Country seem to last forever. That morning even more so it seems that the sun would never break the Easter as I mechanically packed myself and walked out into the predawn. That day I headed black to Bilbao, from where I would soon fly back. I had almost made it to see her again, but hadn’t.
The days passed and I returned to our little rented house off Toll Road. Renee and I were both grieving. She with added weight of caring for Bodie through those last days, me with the weight of not being for there for my family. We clung together though and, without really thinking about it, we got a tree. I had never been much of a Christmas celebrator, a commercialized holiday for presents, I thought mostly. Sure go through the motions, but nothing too exciting. That Christmas, however, the tree and decorating took on new life for both Renee and I. It became a fierce determination to celebrate the season and to honor Bodie’s passing. We had only a little tree, and were living in a tiny house, but we decorated it to the best of our abilities. We lit the rest of the home up with lights. We played Christmas carols and loved each other and Dusty and Coco. And that Bodie spirit of Christmas has stuck with us, through the years. Decorating a tree and putting up lights means something completely different to me. It means a celebration of life. This year, we were feeling really tired, and in transition in a lot of ways, and it seemed that we were not going to put up lights or our tree. We set a deadline, if it doesn’t happy by next Monday, it’s not going to happen. But then we rallied, we erected the tree and hung lights all over our little apartment. It became the season again. For everything that is happening in life it’s never too late to celebrate.
I wanted to write about this Christmas when Christmas really became Christmas for us, even though it is colored by a tragedy, but I wasn’t sure how. What to learn. I thought about exploring grief, learning about it, but that didn’t seem quite right, nor a topic that can be covered in a single blog post. Only last night did I think about how much, in the face of all of that loss, what the tree that we decorated meant, and I asked myself “why a tree?” A little Internet digging (you’re going to find plenty on this topic, but most banal) I came across this article on the origins and meaning of the Christmas tree, which in the results of my quick search appeared by far to be the best one on the topic and which I recommend anyone with any interest in the subject read. (Also, as an aside, and knowing nothing about this group, if you are interested in religion this site seems very interesting and balanced in these trying times.)
The idea of bringing a piece of wood into the home for a celebration for the winter solstice has a long tradition in human history, especially Western history. Its first record was from the Egyptians, for whom it symbolized resurrection: not having evergreen, however, the Egyptians used palm branches. The Greeks first decorated an evergreens as part of the celebration of the God Adonia. The modern Christmas tree dates to Western Germany in the sixteenth century. President Franklin Pierce was the first US president to have a tree in the White House, during the mid-1850s. For people around the world associated with the Western tradition, at least, the decoration of the home with evergreen boughs celebrates life, renewal, resurrection and warmth, whatever your particular religious belief.
I hope I don’t lose this perspective on the spirit of the season. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone out there, let’s celebrate the return of the light!