2004-12-26 23:08:19 (UTC)

Peace on Earth

We had a lovely visit with my Dad on Christmas Day. It's
his first Christmas without Mom and several times I saw him
pause for a minute and smile wistfully and look off into the
distance and I know he was thinking of her and of other
Christmases long ago. He'd gone to a great deal of trouble
for us, preparing a buffet meal from the deli which included
shrimp, smoked salmon and ham, crackers and dips, chocolates
and cookies. The gifts were awkwardly wrapped and he
admitted that this is the first year he's ever wrapped
gifts. There wasn't a tree but he'd put different ornaments
around including glitter encrusted construction paper
cut-out hands of the boys when they were very small hanging
from the mantelpiece. My gift from him was a large box
containing all of my mother's knitting tools, needles and
yarns. I have one sister, eight years younger than I, who
doesn't knit but she noted that there were several skeins of
a soft pink yarn and hinted broadly that she'd treasure an
item knit from some of it. I cast on a scarf for her this
On a corner of my desk in my sewing room I keep a few
mementos of Steven. There's a small framed black and white
photo of him--one of my favorites. He's wearing camo and a
flak vest and is standing with his hands on his hips in
front of a helicopter with a smile on his face. There's a
small redware plate which has his worn leather case holding
his rosary, his crewman wings, a pin he gave me and our
wedding rings. There's an American flag and a vase which I
fill with various things at different times of the year--
flowers or grasses or feathers. This week it holds a small
sprig of holly. And there's a manila tag I tea-dyed and
stamped with the word peace. I added a triangle in the
shape of a tree made from a worn piece of a red, white and
blue quilt with a bit of twig for the trunk and a tiny rusty
star on the tip.

Some people may call that a shrine but I don't. It's just a
quiet spot where I've gathered physical things to remind me
of Steven. John has no problem with my doing this. My
sewing room is one of the bedrooms so it's in a private part
of the house, not a place a visitor might come across

The choir sang the Christmas cantata at both the Shedd and
Halsey churches this morning. When we returned home I
changed out of my good clothes back into my ordinary ones
and began catching up with the housework. While I was making
the turkey noodle soup I'd intended to make yesterday, the
doorbell rang unexpectedly. It was John's parents. During
the course of their visit there was mention of my sewing
room and as they'd never seen it, they stood up and said
they'd like to have a tour. Now understand that John's
father has no problem with Steven. His mother met a young
soldier who had contracted tuberculosis after being gassed
in World War I and married him; he was Jack, my
father-in-law's father. Jack's lungs were badly damaged and
he died young, when John's father was barely five. His
mother's grief and depression was raw and long and
horrendous. John's father remembers. But she recovered and
found Grandpa Harry a few years later and they were together
in a loving relationship for more than fifty years before
she died.

John's mother disapproved when her mother-in-law
spoke wistfully of Jack. She seemed to think it was somehow
disloyal for her to do so now that she had Harry. My
mother-in-law married at 24 and has been married to the same
man for more than fifty-five years. She cannot understand
that you don't stop loving someone just because they die.
And you don't stop loving someone who's dead just because
you start loving someone else. I know this violates the
natural law that two things can't occupy the same place at
the same time, but that's not true of the human heart.

She's uncomfortable whenever any mention of Steven is made;
she tenses up and I can see the pain and worry in her eyes
as she looks at her son. John and I have thought of having
a frank and open discussion about this with her. I would try
to explain that I don't love John any less for having loved
Steven. John would try to explain that he's not jealous and
does not feel betrayed or threatened when he's mentioned but
we've realized it would be unlikely to help much.

So when John's parents told me that they wanted to see my
sewing room, I asked them to give me a few minutes to tidy
up a bit in there first. I wanted to put those items from
the corner of my desk in a drawer, not because I'm ashamed
of Steven, but to spare my mother-in-law's feelings. "Oh,
no! Don't bother!" she said."It'll be fun to see your works
in progress!" and off they went down the hallway with
John and me right behind them.

Of course, she immediately saw the items in the corner of my
desk as soon as she walked into the room and then turned and
pointedly ignored it, instead talking to me about the things
on my bulletin board, my old sewing machine, the blocks I'm
working on now, anything but what she'd seen which had
visibly upset her although she didn't say anything about it
but kept talking about other things. It's sad that she
cannot understand but all John and I feel we can do at this
point is to reassure her as much as we can that our marriage
is a loving and strong one and my first husband, dead now
for more than thirty years, is no threat to it.
As we go into the final week of 2004 and head into a new
year, I continue to pray for peace on earth. It's not just
a holiday greeting but a daily prayer for me. Still, I do
not pray for peace at any cost; to have true peace there
must also be justice.

It hurts me to see shoppers being rude to each other and to
hard-working and tired store clerks as they search for the
illusive perfect Christmas gift. Too many drivers are
impatient and harried, selfishly thinking only of themselves
and their schedules and the things they feel they must get
done with too little time to do it in and being totally
unaware and uncaring of others around them. I wish there
were more calmness, more tolerance, more forgiveness, more
kindness, more compassion. Christmas is not about the
gifts, the food and drink, the parties, the lights, the
tinsel, the noise. All of this is mere wrapping. The core
of Christmas, of life, is love and giving that love away and
too often we fallible and fragile humans forget that.