The handwriting was one I hadn’t seen before. Lovely, I would call it, with letters that curved in just the right places, penned in black ink by a careful hand. The paper was white and folded down the middle.
It only had two sentences. “Once you wrote about a comfortable peace at Christmas,” this person wrote. “Please tell us again.”
And it was signed “Julia.” No return address. Just Julia.
The telephone rang at work two days later and a woman’s voice greeted me on the other end. She was quiet. Older. It was Julia. “I’m 80 years old,” she said. She asked if I had gotten her note. I told her I had. “I just wanted to make sure,” she said. And she hung up.
Here you go, Julia.
It is a few days before Christmas and the house is still. Quiet, actually, for the first time since we all have been home for the day. Everyone else is tucked in safe and sound and there is only me, making my nightly rounds through the house. Checking the locks one more time. Turning out lamps. Placing stray pillows back on the sofa. I lean over the chair to turn out the lights of the Christmas tree and I stop myself. What it is that made me stop, I’m not quite sure. Just something about the moment. That very one. And I sit down.
It’s dark. Not completely, really, but dark, except for the comforting glow of the lights peeking from the branches of the tree. I tuck my feet up under me as I settle in the crook of the sofa and pull an afghan from the other end across my lap. It is old and colorful and even worn in places and I am reminded for a second that someone a long time ago made it with their own two patient hands. And I wonder, as they crocheted did they ever once think that a tired mother might use it one cold December night as she sat in her darkened den and gazed at the Christmas tree?
Probably not. But it is a nice thought anyway. I settle a little deeper into my corner and look up at the tree in its own blanket of multi-colored, twinkling lights.
I picked out those lights, the colored ones. Big, fat shiny red and green bulbs like the ones we used to have, a long time ago, when I was young. Maybe that’s why I had to have them. Because they reminded me of another day, when we searched for just the right tree in the south Georgia woods, then set it up with the help of a few choice words and a prayer in our wood paneled den and wrapped it in lights just like these.
I would sit then, too, even as a child. Late at night after everyone else had gone to sleep. I would tiptoe from my room, go in the den, turn on the tree and just ... stare. No thoughts of Santa or gifts. Just a comforting quiet that filled me with peace. Even at a young age I treasured that time.
Like now. No longer young, far from being a child, I stare once again at the sparkle of the Christmas tree and feel that same, familiar quiet filling me with peace. A peace much needed in a world very grown up.
My comfortable peace. It is the same one that washes over me all times of the year, but especially at Christmas. It is there in the manger scene, the one arranged carefully by my daughter’s small hands. It is there in each light, each song, each special prayer. Each bough that smells of fresh pine and the sweet taste of peppermint. It refreshes my soul.
It is a few days before Christmas and the house is still.
I pull myself from my cocoon and fold up the colorful, old afghan. I check the locks one more time. Then I stand and look at the tree, my colorful tree, and I breathe in quiet peace.
That’s how I know it’s Christmas. At that moment. That very one.
Thank you, Julia, for asking. Merry Christmas.
Contact columnist Mandy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.