I wrote and published this piece six years ago, shortly after the death of a close friend. I came across it this week, and honestly, I’d forgotten that I wrote this as a Christmas meditation. The idea of surprise is becoming a theme for me this December. Life deals us all some pretty unpleasant surprises at times, but if you go looking, if you’re paying attention, you can find some nice surprises. Flowers, birds, an unexpected visitor, perhaps. I hope the Universe is kind to you this season. And I hope you’re kind to yourself.
Last week my former companion Harry called me to see how I was doing since the passing of my dear friend Craig. It was incredibly kind of him to call because our relationship has at times been rather prickly. We had a brief conversation and as we were about to hang up he said, “You’re in my heart, Nance.” I responded most sincerely, “I’ll always love you, Harvey.” OMG!—I called him Harvey!
Harvey—as Harry well knows—is the name of one of the main characters in my first novel. Best laugh I’ve had in weeks! (Harry thought it was funny too.)
Now let me assure you that Harvey is a fictional character. Resemblance to any person living or dead is accidental and unintentional (right). And the similarity in names is coincidental (sure). I’ve always loved the name Harvey. I named our kitten Harvey when I was a kid, and he grew into one of the best cats ever.
Later that day in a more introspective mood, it occurred to me that what I’d said was the absolute truth. I want to love Harry, but what I really love is the image of Harry I’ve created in my head.
I don’t think this is so unusual. I’m guessing a lot of couples idealize their partners (especially in new relationships). When our partner doesn’t live up to the character we’ve created, that we imagine them to be, well, there can be hell to pay. Parents might do the same thing with their children, and children (particularly “adult children”) with their parents. Employers definitely have created a box they want their employees to fit into.
It seems to me that Christmas is a good time to open our eyes and hearts and do the best we can to love our families, friends and co-workers exactly as they are. Most of us have some picture of an ideal holiday: it was generated by a childhood memory, a saccharine TV show, Martha Stewart’s magazine or a frienemy’s boasting of holiday bliss on Facebook. If only we could get our families and friends to comply! Then we too could have a perfect holiday! I’m not sure, but I’m guessing this isn’t how Jesus would want us to celebrate His birthday.
And what about Jesus? What about God? Are we willing to love God exactly as God is, or have we created an image of God inside our heads that we love and worship?
Now it would be very tempting for me to point a finger at people who hold political views divergent from my own and say, “You have created an image of Jesus to justify what you do, but you’re wrong!” Yes, it’s tempting but that’s not my purpose today.
I think there may be as many ideas of what God is—and what God is not—as there are people on this planet. I believe every idea is valid, but every idea is incomplete. In How the Light Gets In, Pat Schneider explains that she has come to use the word “mystery” (with a lower case “m”) as her pet name for the Divine. Her story acknowledges a hard truth: none of us in human bodies (what my friend Janice calls our “earth suits”) can fully know and understand God.
This Christmas season I invite you—while praying, meditating or just sitting quietly—to ask God to reveal a bit more of Him or Her Self to you. I don’t know what will happen. Maybe nothing will happen. But, hey, it’s Christmas! Maybe God will surprise you!
p.s. yes, that’s a photo of me and Harvey up there. We parted amicably.
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