I was addressing Christmas cards by the cozy rosy glow of my SAD light*, and I was thinking about strange intersections and divergences. I am old-school enough to write addresses by hand, copying them one by one from my physical address book. I have used that book since the 90s, and it shows -- addresses scratched out and rewritten, coffee spills from Advents past.
I no longer know where to find the boy named Matt who wanted to be a priest, but I pray for him. I have respected the wishes of the long-ago friend who said (kindly) that she'd prefer not to be in touch, but I pray for her and remember her wistfully. I only address cards to a few of the names I penciled in while we lived in Edinburgh, but I think of the others fondly. I remember learning to say "Penicuik" with a proper rounded front vowel. And I remember that season of our life when I always worried at least a little about making the rent, and I feel grateful for God's providence and for lessons learned in living simply.
Some of the people in my address book will never receive another Christmas card: my brother-in-law Brance, whose absence from this world still takes me by surprise sometimes, a lovely, lovely man named John Murphy from Edinburgh, whose kindness and quiet service I will always remember. Sometimes I reach an entry where I do not know if I should send a Christmas card or not -- has it been too long? Is my Christmas letter too weird? I wonder sometimes if anyone out there is reading my name in an old address book, and praying for me. Perhaps I will find out in heaven.
We send two envelopes to the same small Louisiana town, and I think about the strangeness of the paths we walk -- the unexpected journeys that led two couples, unknown to each other, from the same part of the Midwest to the same part of the South. Today is the O ADONAI antiphon and I am thinking about Moses -- about the loneliness of herding sheep, about the ancient story of a desultory ramble through "the far side of the wilderness" that became an encounter with the living God.
While in some ways the ability to track parcels online is a control freak's dream, it can also be an exercise in exasperation. Last month I watched a package of yarn go from a town an hour away to a small town 15 minutes away, and then back to the town an hour away, and then finally to Gladlyville and my front porch. HONESTLY, I said to myself, what's up with that? But sometimes life seems like that too: an aleatory entangling of false starts and missteps. I once read a definition of omniscience that has stayed with me: God's omniscience means that he could see the traces of each step a person took, all through each day of her life, and look at the resulting shape to say, "Ah, yes: that's Jamie." In the middle of the seemingly purposeless back and forth and up and down, we are known, and loved.
So I drink my coffee, doing my best to keep it off the address book's pages this year, and I say a prayer for the people with whom we walked a little way: that the light of God will encircle them, and that the love of God will hold them close.
*That is a joke -- using a SAD light is like weight training for the pupillary constrictor muscles, and my kids approach me with shielded eyes when they need something while I am sitting in front of it, but OH it makes such a difference in my mood.