Dad turned 87 years old today. Which means, he said, the day was the first of his 88th year on this planet earth. Eighty-seven is just an arbitrary number to me, but its numerical value in a human-life context does imply advanced age and all the ailments and challenges and wisdom that accompany. And 87 seems awfully close to 90, which everyone knows is old. But to me, Dad is just Dad, whatever his age. He refused my recent suggestion that we move our traditional Baker Christmas Eve party from the 24th to the 23rd—he would not countenance celebrating himself in juxtaposition with the Celebration of Christ. What’s more, he shares a birthday wish Joseph Smith, born in 1805, to whom the Father and the Son manifested themselves in fiery visitation and through whom They revealed a restoration of the gospel and church of Jesus Christ. No, Dad would not set himself up for celebratory propinquity with the Son of God and His great latter-day Prophet. I conceded the point and informed him of the family conveniences of celebrating Jesus and Joseph and not him on the 23rd, and that any festivities would be purely coincidental and all pointed heavenward. So, the family gathered, and we ate a hearty meal, and we sang Christmas carols and hymns, and Dad narrated the story of the birth of Jesus in the company of animals and the humblest of people, and how even the earth’s great scholars from eastern lands came to honor and endow. Two great-grandchildren, Lila and Gabe, arranged the animal and human figurines as the story played out in their three- and four-year-old minds. And, yes, we sang happy birthday to Dad, by which point he could not escape our ebullient attentions. And he received our gifts, some wrapped in gold paper. Now we are two days from Christmas. People in politeness persist in asking me if I am ready for Christmas, to which I answer “almost.” But I wonder if I am ever ready for Christmas, if any of us are ever really ready for Christmas. I did manage to purchase all the gifts and mail all the cards which convention and family require. I helped decorate the house and the yard and helped cook the meals and bake the pies. I joined in the board games and snowman building and the Christmas-movie watching. But is my heart ready for Christmas? Is my heart ready for all seven of my children and their spouses and children to be elsewhere for Christmas? Is my heart ready to make Christmas special for Mom and Dad, the objects of my awkward caregiving, and I in turn the past and perpetual object of their careful childrearing? Am I ready to be humble and kind and generous? Am I ready to forgive and to move forward with courage into newness? I want to answer, Yes, I am ready, or will be in time, but the silent truth is, I am not ready—not really—but I’m trying. I was ready enough to stand around the piano with the family group and sing my part, and I was ready to join the friendly snowball fight with the children and to be tackled by my barefoot smiling son in the snow and to roll frostily around grinding snow in each other’s laughing faces, and I was ready to say “I love you” to my cherished ones.
(Pictured above: my Nutella French Silk Pie, in a Julia Childs pie shell.)
(Below: glimpses of a celebration, with birthday boy under the light of the lamps.)