For the first time in over thirty years, I ended up choosing a tiny Norfolk pine instead of a big balsam decorated to within an inch of its life. At first, I regretted my decision but then, I reminded myself that it wasn’t really about the tree anyway, found my Nativity set, and felt a lot better.
We received the set as a gift from my mother-in-law the year before we adopted our first child. The primitive, hand-painted, black-haired figurines were purchased in a market in Mexico. The baby Jesus in the set looks a lot like my two kids. One of my favorite pictures from long ago is of our son the first Christmas he was with us standing on his tip toes at the age of eighteen months, peeking over the edge of the table where the set had been placed. In the picture, he has a mischievous grin and his pudgy hand is reaching for one of the tiny lambs. That day seems like a lifetime and about ten minutes ago to this mom of grown children. How is that possible?
In addition to the three wise men bearing gifts, angels, a couple of donkeys, Mary and Joseph and Jesus, this year there’s also a small wooden Buddha in the cast of characters on my buffet. I’d originally thought of relocating Mr. Buddha to a different spot in the dining room for Christmas but then decided that in this, of all years, the concept of being more tolerant and inclusive when it comes to people who don’t necessarily believe everything I do couldn’t hurt so I let him stay. He looks pleased to be a part of the holiday festivities, actually.
I don’t know a lot about Buddhism except that there are three “universal truths.” The first one being that nothing is ever lost in the universe. Matter turns into energy, energy turns into matter. Everything returns to earth. We are born of our parents, and then our children are born of us, and then their children will be born of them. The second universal truth is that everything changes. Life is like a river flowing on and on. Sometimes it flows slowly and sometimes swiftly. It is smooth in some places and rough in others. The third universal truth is that there is continuous change due to the law of cause and effect, or karma. That our thoughts and actions determine the kind of life we will have.
I love the Christmas story of shepherds and angels and a small boy born in a manger who would grow up to save us all. I need this story this year. Attending too many funerals and not enough christenings in one year makes one want to believe that it all turns out okay in the end. I need to believe that bad things happening to good people has nothing whatsoever to do with karma when I see terrified brown-skinned children in an orphanage in Syria on the nightly news begging for the shelling to stop and it’s a week before Christmas.
Maybe we all just choose the narratives we need to make sense of the nonsensical and hope for the best. Invite strangers to the party. Put up the tree, string the lights, and pray for that peace that surpasses all understanding as we’ve been taught to do. Have a little faith. Be more patient. Love each other better.
And hold those we love a little closer, knowing that everything changes all the time. And try be okay with that, too.