By Dana Gornall
It is Christmas Eve.
Most years we take the kids to the children’s mass at 4:00.
As tradition, we always climb the balcony in our coats, sit up above the rest of the parishioners and peer down below at all the goings on. The choir sits to our right and the organ player’s fingers graze the white and black keys. My children squirm and poke each other. I would always dig in my purse to produce a couple of pens so that they could draw on the program leaflet.
The music would signal the procession and slowly children from the parish dressed as shepherds and angels would walk in front of the priest, hands pressed together in a prayer position. Sitting high above the church, the music would play and the priest would begin talking, and many times I let my mind wander on the year that proceeded. All of the things I had said and done, dreams and wishes made, some fulfilled and many not.
This year though, was different.
This year, with kids being a little older and no longer holding that fairy tale belief in Santa Claus, we attended midnight mass. This year, we sat up in our regular spots—me, my daughters, my son and then my husband. The church was darker, the wind outside a little colder, and my children—on the cusp of puberty and middle adolescence—still squirmed and played with the candles we would soon be lighting.
Pulling up the collar on my coat and feeling a shiver settle into my skin, I thought about how much had changed. The separation that had been growing in our family, the division that had began as a tiny crack and slowly spread further and wider apart.
A year from now everything would be different.
My husband and I had made the choice to go separate ways (something that was not decided lightly) and all of the details of this and that had not been figured out yet. We only knew that everything we had put into what was here was no longer working and that two unhappy parents together was not the family model we wanted to present anymore. It was the right decision, (we thought, perhaps) yet when one is presented with the choice of going one way or the other, and a path is finally chosen, it can be difficult not to wonder if it was right or wrong.
And what would happen if we went the other way.
So here we sit, in the darkened church, holding onto simple traditions of picking the same spots high above the rest of the people, and children, albeit a little older, still squirming in their seats. The choir sits to our right and the organ player’s fingers graze over the keys. Because that’s what we do when the world is about to turn upside down. We hold onto what we know because that is all we have at the moment.
A man to my left leans in and touches the lighted wick of his candle to mine and I lean toward the right to light my daughter’s. The atmosphere seems to hold a sense of magic. Down below a procession begins, only this time it isn’t shepherds and angels but rather adult servers. Everything almost the same, yet slightly different.
We all stand, together.
I glance toward my family, all in a line. Next year would be different; new traditions would form. Maybe we would go to church in different places or maybe we wouldn’t go to church (I had never gotten anything out of it anyway). Maybe my kids would have two Christmases—I suppose that is what seems to happen.
But for right now, we are here.
Editor: Peter Schaller