I am writing this in my kitchen on the iPhone, as I have written many of these posts. Everyone else is still asleep and I am up – as I have been so often in these 17 years of mother life, taking advantage of the quiet to get things done. I have started on the bread, from my mother’s mother’s recipe; I chopped the vegetables for lunch. Soon, I will wrap.
In these advent posts I rarely plan what I will write about. I wanted that to be part of the gift – whatever wandered into my field of attention when I think of the events of the day and that makes me feel grateful. I surprise myself every time: like opening a window.
Yesterday was an exception. I started to write about a trip I took to the design museum with my friend Hilary. She had come to lunch with her husband George and their two sons. Hilary and I met when our firstborns were babies – at a baby massage class. She was South African, an historian, and her father’s family came from the same Ashkenazi Jewish roots as mine. Her husband was Greek, and her kids “Grewish” like me. It is no wonder Hilary became part of my extended London family, even more like a relative after she moved north to East Finchley. We do not get together often but when we do it is always a special occasion.
After lunch yesterday we took our 14 year olds to the new Design Museum in Holland Park. The others went to watch football. The museum is a great example of London at its best. Built out of the shell of the old Commonwealth Centre which was itself built out of the shell of the old Imperial Museum, it has gone from being a dusty monument to Britain’s Empire to being an open, European-style modernist showcase to a democratic global creative art focusing on the future.
I started these posts because the future felt so dire as I trawled through social media, an activity I have found more and more compelling ever since the Brexit vote sent us down this path towards breaking the foundations of our common society- an earthquake whose rumbling has not ended. I was determined to focus on the light, and except for one moment when the devil tempted me to send a satirical post about a Presidential apology which will never happen, these windows have worked. I have felt so much better.
But yesterday I did break my own design brief because I discarded what I had started to write about the day’s gifts. I began to write about my sister whose birthday it was. As I wrote, she was driving from San Francisco to LA with her husband and daughter to join my brother and his family and my mother for the holidays. I felt sad not to be there but also as ever amazed and astonished at the very thought of what she means to me.
My sister’s birthday- was overwhelmingly the thing I felt most grateful for, but my feelings were not easily tucked on the end of a post about our design museum outing. That is true a lot of things in my life I don’t write about – not because it means too little but too much. I found a picture from when we were growing up and tried in an unsatisfying way to write about her. A good post follows a design – it gets to an end point when the edges of the frame become visible but my sister is a lifelong gift whose dimensions are always expanding.
In the Advent Calendars of my youth, the 24th was reserved for the biggest, most impressive window. I felt sure all along when I got to this day I would write about my family – my husband and two children. They are the light and the hope at the centre of my life and my greatest gift but I find as the first faint light outlines the bare branches of the trees at the back I don’t want to write about them. I want to put down my words and be with them.
This is my last post in my 2017 Advent calendar. I am going to stop writing for awhile – and reading the news, too. Tim and I have agreed a media blackout for the holidays. I will start again in the New Year, with a writing workshop I’m hosting at Writers in the Dark, with my worrying and worming through our collective story.
As I finish I want to say one more thank you – to my readers. Often I think when I write I may be the only reader, and that is okay as a lot of why I write is to make sense of the chaos in my own head. But many people have responded to these posts in the last 24 days, and I have loved connecting to all of them. For the chance to connect, for this act itself, to tell a story and to find someone else there who has listened- for that too in my final Advent window I am so incredibly grateful.