Putting away our Christmas decorations makes me pathetically nostalgic. I am the rare one who enjoys this task. As I carefully wrap the Disney ornaments,and the Dixie cup bells, I mentally review our time together, and whisper a doxology of gratitude that another Christmas has passed with our family intact, and fully present. (And I never, ever,
EVER take that for granted.) I gather up the stockings and the nativity sets and cast my prayers into the new year, begging protection and healing, and let’s be honest, success, for my people. I have even tucked notes into the rubbermaid bins…reminders to be grateful that I “get” to be present, unpacking a marriage worth of ornaments (because, you guys, my husband has an ornament problem.) This year the gratitude was a bit harder to muster, tangled with setbacks and let downs, diagnoses and water damage. And Donald Trump. But because gratitude precedes the miracle, I finally offered a litany of thanks for the people that we do life with, because I know how quickly that can change.
We moved to Northern Virginia from Charlottesville five years ago. We left with hearts forever grateful for the life we built, the friendships formed, the jobs we loved, and a close-knit swim community that dictated like….everything. Charlottesville was very, very good to us. And when we moved to Herndon, I was in the right mindset, ready to “begin again” assuming that we would pretty quickly build a new tribe. I knew it would be difficult, but I was mentally prepared to resettle us and do the awkward work of forging new relationships. Yet I failed to include in our plans the e-coli infection that would land me in the hospital two weeks after the moving truck pulled away, changing not only the course of my life, but also limiting our ability to assimilate into our new community.
My Charlottesville tribe knew me as an active mom, an overzealous passionate swimming advocate, a devoted employee. A crazy neighbor. I often feel like my identity here offers a stark contrast, because all I’ve known since August 2011 is a near constant battle to regain my health. I originally thought there would be some type of “bell-ringing” after I recovered from the e-coli infection, some attainable end point. But the reality is that I have been a “patient” for five years, and as we’ve untangled the enigma that is my weirdo body, I’ve had to accept words like “rare” and “chronic” and “lifelong”….and“incurable.” The contrast looks like the flip side of a before/after list. From full-time to part-time. From team leader to occasional volunteer. From homemade dinner every night to more take-out than I will admit. (The guys at our “go to” take out place check on us when we don’t call.) I’m still at times stunned by the differences in our lives, and how strange it has been to have been on the side of “need” from the beginning of our time here. It’s bewildering to begin relationships on the receiving end of grace, when I was so previously accustomed to first offering it. And people who knew very little about us stepped into our story…and stayed.
I am convinced that I have the best tribe in the whole world. My people enter our “crisis du jour” and love us with food, flowers, books, knitted hats, and even playdoh. Oh, and poop emoji slippers. (It turns out that it’s still dangerous to put playdoh in the hands of 18 year olds all men.) This “chronic patient” thing is something I’m still adjusting to – reframing expectations, and moving the goal post a littler lower some days.
So when the holidays come and I run into friends from my “old” life, I have to really think before I answer the “How’ve ya been?” question. I sometimes avoid calls (sorry) and duck behind an aisle if I happen to be in Charlottesville. Do they really want to hear that soon after we moved I ended up with two liver diseases, a rare Immune Deficiency, and Lyme Disease? Can I just type out a one-sheeter and hand it to them? “Read this, and if you have questions, great. If you don’t wanna hear anymore, I get that, too. We can just cover the basics – it’s certainly easier for me.” It’s not that our former tribe would fail to understand and even offer to help; in fact, I know the opposite to be true. I think it’s just too much to admit how many hard days we’ve had since moving, and way too long to go into. (I definitely need a one-sheeter.)
As one woven deep into the fabric of several faith communities, I have lots of wise sayings sent my way. I am lifted with relevant Bible verses and whispered prayers; emboldened by texts reminding me to be brave and to seek joy; cracked up by my poop slippers. But as I continue the work of putting Christmas to bed, and reflect on the year that stretches in front of us, I can’t help but try to learn the lessons that are in front of me. I know I will be forever changed from having to make connections from a place of vulnerability, having received nothing but acceptance. I arrived here a steaming hot mess, and was welcomed in spite of my inability to serve on a PTA, or get to back to school nights, to run a swim team or manage a gift-wrap campaign. I resolve to listen more, and to be kinder than necessary, for it really is true that everyone we meet is fighting some kind of battle.
Happy New Year, dear tribe. Let your hearts be light.