under the stars

It’s 10:30 on Christmas Eve. I keep trying not to dwell on the fact that this is now the sixth Christmas without my dad. It seems ridiculous that I should feel more sad today than on some random day like August 16th but holidays are time markers and thus have added meaning to events.

We catalog the passage of time in many ways. Birthdays, holidays, scars, reunions, anniversaries, monthly dinner gatherings, etc. Instead of just letting time march on quietly, we seem to need to mark it, note it, solidify it.

It’s more difficult to feel time passing in places like Phoenix and Oakland. The weather doesn’t change much – there is no winter-foretelling chill in the air come September leading into a complete change of wardrobe over the following few months. There is no bundling up to go out, and shaking off of snow before entering a home-made cozy against the frozen outdoors. There is no excitement when the icicles begin to melt and the glistening wetness drip drops off the roof for the first time in four months. It’s one long late spring here. The temperature changes, yes, but not enough to really demarcate the seasons.

Christmas shouldn’t even be a big deal to me. I’m Jewish, raised Unitarian by Agnostics.

And yet, my grandma and grandpa had a big tree each year which we ritualistically decorated at the direction of my mom. We went caroling with our neighbors and then sang songs next to the lit tree before snuggling into bed. I got a stocking, which to my young amazement, was always full by 4am with finger puppets and an orange. We had holly and white lights and ceramic angels on the mantle. We had wonder and excitement and imagination and the anticipation of opening packages which were wrapped around secrets and secured under a sweet smelling evergreen.

I rarely celebrated Christmas with my dad. When I would go to visit him, there was no tree. If we were at his folks’ house, we celebrated Hanukkah if it was late that year, otherwise, December 25th came and went with little notice except that I would return to my mom with a suitcase full of presents.

But the few occasions I do remember sharing this holiday with my pop were great. One year, when I was about 10 we were in New York with my grandparents. I missed having a tree, so my dad and I draped a green blanket over grandpa’s rocking chair, crafted some ornaments out of aluminum foil, placed some presents on the floor in front of it, and called it our tree. It was a wonderful tree.

Another year when I was 16 years old, we were in Oakland, California. Again, we had no tree and we didn’t have a green blanket or a rocking chair. It was a beautiful clear California night, around 50F. We decided to go out and see if we could see Santa flying around the stars, so we went and sat in the outdoor hot tub around eleven Christmas Eve. We didn’t see Santa, but it was a great way to spend the evening.

When someone you love dies, people keep telling you to remember the good times. But often, remembering anything related to them is painful. I suppose these are the kind of memories to which they are referring. It makes me sad to think about him, but I am so glad to have had those experiences. Not every kid gets to have a blanket tree.

I think I’m going to go try to find Santa Claus in the stars.


One of the somewhat disconcerting things about cell phones is the lack of knowing the location of the person on the other end of the line. Back in land-line era… when you called your friend you usually had a picture of them sitting at the kitchen table, or in their bedroom, or in the front room, while you talked with them. That image gave the person on the other end of the line a location, somewhere concrete to place them while you talked. Perhaps it gave the conversation a little more solidity because it was that much closer to having a solid foundation on which to converse if not in person.

Now, with cell phones – both calling and text messaging – you have no idea where the other person is unless they tell you or you know beforehand. I send a friend a text message out into the ether and he replies. He could be in a truck stop in Utah, in a hotel, at a grocery store, wandering the streets of a city, at home, in a restaurant, etc.

I often feel the need to locate a person when I converse with them. “Where are you?”
I think other people feel a need to locate themselves to the other person, because often they will offer up their whereabouts even before asked.

Does this mobile phenomena make us feel less connected because of a lack of grounding and inability to knowing the location of the other person, even while we are more available than ever?

spacing out

Yesterday, I was riding with a couple of friends. I was leading the way home on the highway and zoned out for a few minutes. It had been an early morning and I was a little tired. I wasn’t really thinking about much of anything, and I wasn’t paying as much attention to the road as I should have been.

We were behind a van, not tail-gating, but following in the middle lane. I’d seen a little white older sedan in front of the van when we changed lanes, but I couldn’t see it from my current vantage point.

All of a sudden the van started to fish tail. There was some paper or something in the air, I think having come from the white sedan. In order to avoid a potential accident in front of me, I flapped my arm down and up to indicate to my two followers to slow down and then I changed lanes to the empty right lane.

There was no accident and the van quickly regained control, but it was a little wake-up call. I realized that I hadn’t been fully present. I usually don’t sit behind larger vehicles because I dislike not being able to see what is going on down the road. Perhaps if I had been more aware earlier, I would have had us change lanes sooner for better look-far viewing of the highway in front of us.

It wasn’t even a close-call, but it was noticeable to me. Later, one of my following motorcyclists asked me, “What was up with that van? I’ll bet the driver was looking for something under his seat….” Yeah, what a jerk-face. But that didn’t stop me from knowing that if I’d been more on the ball, perhaps she wouldn’t have asked that question because the van wouldn’t have been an issue to us.