Friday, December 24, 2010

The Great Miss at Christmas

Christmas joy brings with it a corridor of memories...some good, some not so good. But it's the good memories I want to write about. It's the memories of those whom I love who have gone from us; who have reached the unbidden goal of each person's fragile life.

There is the hazy memory of my being in the hospital as a small boy. I would run with another boy in a wheelchair throughout the hospital halls. So weak is this memory, all I can do is but feel the joy and exhilarating pleasure of playing with my hospital friend. But then, one day, he wasn't there. He was gone. And all I remember is the feeling of something being wrong in my world of play and laughter; it somehow was not to be this way. I had assumed the laughter, like racing down the hallways on wheelchairs, would go on forever...and, also, so would my friend.

The nurses said he had died.

That was the first time I experienced the Miss.

I remember my Dad. He went on his journey alone - as we all must go - on December 14th, 1990. As a small child, I was so impressed by my father's big, powerful looking hands. I loved to look at them. As a young boy, I always liked his hairstyle, which really wasn't much of anything but combed straight back, and I always thought of him as being handsome. I hoped that as a man, I would look like him and have his hair. A defining memory is the day my father took a strap to hit me. I really don't remember for what, all I know is that he got angry at me for doing something I should not have done - talked back to Mom, I think - and he accidentally got me in the face with the belt buckle and cut me. I was bleeding. I could see the surprise on his face turn into guilt and regret as he realized what had happened. I saw the heart behind that look and realized then and remain firm today in the conviction that my father loved me. Throughout the years, no matter what my father did or said, if he was with us or away, I was cemented to the belief that Dad loved me. I regret having not shown him the love that he did not know how to show me. We never hugged, said, "I love you", or even had a good conversation between us.

The Miss recalls moments gone forever that can never be done over.

I remember my Mom. She also went alone on her journey across the Jordan. Mom left three months ago on October 4, so this year will be our first without her with us. I know my sister, Linda, will miss her most since she spent so much time living close and watching over her, especially after Dad had gone. Linda's children will feel the Great Miss more than most since Mom and Dad were always there for them in their young and impressionable years. I'll never forget when, as a teenager, a girlfriend ditched me and I was so upset I just started to cry right in front of Mom.  All she did was hug me and - in her Puerto Rican way - tell me she loves me and that everything will turn out okay. As she spoke, I got the feeling Mom knew what being hurt and rejected was all about; I felt she had genuine empathy for me. I was ashamed I acted like a baby. But, Mom was there when I needed the shoulder, the encouragement. And I knew right then and there that as deep as my hurt may be, somebody's hurt was deeper still.

After Mom left, the Miss came again for a visit.

When I was twenty, I joined the Marine Corps. I did so, not to get away, not to look for a better future for me, not because I could not find a job, and not because it was something I wanted to do. I joined the Marines because I could see my life heading in wrong directions, in directions that would ultimately cause hurt and shame to my parents. I joined the United States Marine Corps because I thought it would be the best way to straighten out my life in order to make my parents proud of me; and that was my goal: to make my parents proud. I can only hope I've succeeded, if in nothing else, at least, giving my parents reason to be glad I was their son.

The Miss is silent; if it knows whether or not my parents were proud of me, it's keeping to itself.

Then there is the woman whose life has touched me the most, my first wife, Clare Anne. She went to be with the Lord on March 31, 1989, which I think was a week or so before Easter. Every Christmas the memory is framed with her loss. She always gave me the feeling that I was being loved and she sacrificed much to marry me and have my two beautiful daughters, Sarah and Amy. I know that when a person dies we tend to exaggerate their good qualities and dismiss the bad; but I find it genuinely hard to come up with anything negative about her. She showed true dependence on God by her life of prayer. She displayed tenderness towards everyone and never had a bad word for anyone; she saw the good in others when all I saw was their bad. She joked and laughed well. The very long line of cars that followed slowly behind the hearse showed me how little I knew of all the lives she touched. Maybe the cruelty of the world couldn't stand her gentleness anymore...I don't know.

And memories of her at Christmas time never fail to color my Great Miss with a mixture of sunshine yellow and sad blue. Since then the Miss at Christmas has been even great, the Great Miss.

Yes, I know I will see Clare, my parents, and even the little boy, but it doesn't stop me from missing them. We may not sorrow as the world sorrows but I do miss them…especially at Christmas

And there are others along my life that have come and gone, who add to the feelings of this Great Miss. Every Christmas brings to me the Great Miss. And, I don’t mind. I welcome the Great Miss because I do not want to forget them. To forget is to treat them as if they never existed. I want to make it a fact that they existed – that they laughed and cried, played and worked, loved and touched us with their love. I would think that to the one whom the Great Miss never visits and stays for awhile, that person has lost what it is to love and be loved…but mostly, to be loved.

And so, this Christmas, again, I greatly miss them…