My new fall tradition seems to be doing things in advance.
Last year around this time I was hard at work on my novel, and inspired by the final scene - taking place on Christmas day - I made big pots of sauerkraut and cranberry sauce. It was well before Thanksgiving and certainly ages before Christmas, and yet I felt the need to eat my favorite holiday foods.
I woke up this morning with no meal plan for the week - and I just finished popping sauerkraut, cranberry, and mashed potatoes in the crock pots. Leftovers are definitely in my future. And, of course, I put Christmas choral music on as soon as I poured my first cup of coffee. Once I got in the car it was Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, all the way to the grocery.
In the months after Halloween we are inundated with Christmas advertisements, decorations, music - and we are often drowned in a backlash of commentary, by the frustration of those who don't want to rush things. And there's a significant problem with assuming that Christmas is central to American life - in a diverse culture, it is wrong to focus entirely on a Christian holiday.
But for me - a former churchgoer, a woman of ambivalent spirituality, and too frequently a stickler to protocol - I'm finished with waiting.
Too often the holidays don't live up to the hype. Halloween serves as the top of a hill; I find myself strapped to a sled and careening down into the canyon of Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's a busy time and it goes so quickly, so many people to see, so many meals to eat, so many smiles and nods and hugs. The few days surrounding Christmas go by in a blur until I'm down in the valley of fatigue, my sled wedged in a crevasse.
And I can't help but feel that life is like that too. We race forward, pushing towards the next deadline, the next event, birthdays, weddings, funerals, friends made, family lost. As we get older our experiences grow, each day feeling shorter and making up a smaller and smaller percentage of our lives. If we're lucky, we mature, and we realize the value of every moment - it's not the things you do which form your life, but the person you are.
I used to think that I had to reserve certain tasks for certain times, or that I had to follow specific rules in order to function in my family, my society. For years I wanted things that I didn't reach for - now, still at the beginning of my life, I'm asking myself what has held me back. I know that if all I worry about is adhering to other people's expectations I will miss the opportunities which are afforded those who dare to be themselves. I've been afraid of making waves or making a mistake; I've been afraid of getting a second set of piercings in my ears, or a tattoo, or saying no.
And I'm aware that I was taught a set of values - no, not values, but rules - which dictated everything from the books I was allowed to read to the appropriate day to hang up my Christmas lights.
Our lives are so small, and in their insignificance they are as expansive as the universe.
We have a brief time here - but since our internal lives are all we can perceive, our experiences are our entire spiritual existence, and they are vast. Our senses are limited and yet they are how we find meaning - there is a world in the smell of cranberry sauce, in the memory of crystalline snow, in the soft wool of a coat, in the sugar and salt of pecan pie.
And it is because we are both so small and so large that our actions are meaningless and terribly important. Rules are useless - kindness is without price. Authenticity with others is the only way forward because it brings us back into ourselves.
I've been lucky enough to have a close friend in my life who listens to Christmas music whenever she feels like it. At first that blew my mind - to flagrantly defy the protocol - and then I realized how honest it was, to advocate for oneself. To follow the heart. To be true, to be happy.
That friendship has encouraged me to do the same.
So I've got holiday food simmering away, Christmas music all through the house, and I'm thinking a lot about the things which hold me back and those things I wish to leave behind. I'm thinking about how small my life is - an amalgamation of values and objects and my fair share of neuroses - and how big my soul is, mostly made of love. Because my days are nothing, my moments are everything. And all I need to focus on is how to be kind, how to be compassionate, how to be authentic.
I'll make sauerkraut and remember Christmas in Bolton Hill, the fat flakes of snow falling on the holly tree, cooking with my Grandmere in the kitchen, laughing as my Grandpere presided over the table with a joke and a boyish grin.
I'll eat cranberry sauce and remember that I was small, that I called it cannedberry sauce when it popped out of the tin, that my mother was so young as she worked hard to feed me.
I'll listen to choral music and remember my father's lucky red socks, the smell of incense too thick, the giggles of choristers at two in the morning, a race with my Dad to the first chocolate doughnut in the rectory, the taste of pink Tokay and the rice paper host.
I'll write about all these experiences, knowing that they are so precious to me, so heavy in my mind, so weightless in their insignificance.
And I'll do all of that whenever the heck I feel like it.
Life is too short to wait.
Life is too long to waste.