Saturday, November 20, 2010


I asked Lawrence what I should say about him in the Christmas letter. I truly was looking for advice. Yesterday I’d sat down to write, and finding that I couldn’t, I’d looked back at the 2010 edition of THE HOPE LADY Blog. Reading between the lines of what was recorded there I could pretty much piece the year together. A lot had been written about the wedding that consumed so much of our attention. There were some health references, some holiday references, some seeds of stories I’d told on stages, some small musings about hope. “That ought to be enough to get me started,” I said to myself. But it wasn’t. I wrote half a page and deleted it.
Wondering what to write in the Christmas letter is an annual event for me. It happens every year at the same time—a few days after mid-November. I always begin in the same place—begin by trying to envision the reading audience. The way I figure it, the recipients of our Christmas letter fall into two categories: people who keep up with our news and don’t learn anything new from it, and people who are so distant from our daily lives that they have no idea what goes on with us in any given year. There are people on that list who last saw us before the birth of our kids, readers who might not even recognize us if we met on the street. To write something that meets the needs of this combination is an impossible thing. Every year I give serious consideration to cancelling the letter, and then I remember how much I like getting Christmas letters. I recall that I even like getting them from people whose news I already know, and from others whose news I care little about. I went through this process yesterday, and decided to write a letter after all. It’s a decision I reach every year.
“What shall I write about you in our Christmas letter?” I said to Lawrence. Even as I said it, I was expecting to be rebuffed, and rightly so. I really ought to be able to write a Christmas letter without writing about my children. After all, they are grown, and if they want things said about them, they can very well speak for themselves. Surely, at this point, David and I have a life to write about. But then I remembered the letters I wrote when we first got married. In those days I would put down some things about us, and then some things about our parents. I don’t usually write about the parents now. Sometimes I try, but it makes the letters too long, once the info about the kids has been included. I guess I’ve never been able to write a Christmas letter without making reference to the important people in my life. Why start now?
I had especially been wondering what to write about Lawrence. He’s had a nasty little year—what with being under-employed, and getting cancer and having his car destroyed by a drunk driver. It’s always hard to figure out how to handle nastiness in a Christmas letter. I have read some very sad Christmas letters from some very sad people. I don’t begrudge them their sadness, and I definitely think that if they want to write about that, the least I can do is read their writing and feel the sadness they feel. That said, it’s not my way to write sadly about sad things. I know that many people find a lot of comfort in writing their sadness and anger, but writing mine never seems to help me much. I like my Christmas letter to be a letter I’d want to read.
Yesterday, when I had faced the fact that I wasn’t writing the Christmas letter, I went on line to look up an article about one of my heroes, Stuart McLean. McLean writes for the spoken word in a style that would characterize my Christmas letter if I were a better writer. He writes family stories with happy endings. When he reads his work aloud, his listeners laugh, and sometimes they cry. McLean is accused of being sentimental and cheesy. I love him because of it.
This particular profile by Jeet Heer is called Mr. Nice Guy. Heer writes:
“When McLean was a boy in Montreal, he had the unusual habit of pretending to be a preacher, delivering ad hoc sermons to his parents’ friends. In a way, he remains a frockless clergyman, a parson in the guise of a popular entertainer. He is a deeply religious writer, but not in any narrow, sectarian sense.
Rather, he articulates an unshorn natural piety that even unbelievers can accept. At the heart of all religion lies a feeling of gratitude for the simple and mysterious fact that we exist, that for reasons unknown to us we’ve been brought into this world and allowed to enjoy fellowship and earthly pleasures.
It is perhaps no accident that his show airs on weekends, traditional days of rest and meditation. A century ago, many Canadians listened to homilies in church on Sundays, a practice some still follow. But now we can stay at home and hear secular sermons on CBC.”
Heer doesn’t tell us whether McLean is happy with the idea that his stories are being compared to sermons. I know I definitely don’t want my Christmas letter to be a sermon. I have to accept that it may, or may not be entertaining to everyone who reads it. But I do want it to record and organize our experience in a manner that leaves me with some hope that I can take into the new year. Maybe that’s why I’ve asked Lawrence what I ought to write. Maybe I’m giving him the chance to give me the hope, why I’m willing to risk taking the chance that he won’t.
He says, “Tell them that people who beat cancer get a gold car.”
“Okay,” I say.
Sitting at the computer I jot: Lawrence got a new car this year. His old Malibu has been replaced by a gold Sebring with only 50,000 KM. His Malibu was written off aftr it was hit by a drunk driver who careened down our street just after midnight on a warm June Saturday. Fortunately Lawrence wasn’t in the car when it was struck. He was at home, recovering after cancer surgery. He heard the crash and called to his brother. Three neighbours heard it also. All of them ran outside. The driver tried to escape, but the four healthy men cornered him and held him until the police arrived.
And here, I think, are the seeds of something you might find in a sermon. There’s suffering and there’s injustice. To balance all of this, there’s family loyalty and neighbours helping one another. There’s a sense of getting through bad times and moving on. There’s hope to take into a new year. Maybe there’s even something I’d like to read in a Christmas letter.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You kept just the right tension throughout to keep me reading. As if your pen was a white bouncing ball and I was singing along. Nice