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December 20, 2009
It was looking like snow yesterday, all right, and it was sounding like it on the radio, so we weren't surprised when it started coming down, nor when it got deeper and deeper every time we got up at night and looked out the window. This morning it was lovely, a thick frosting of white on every branch, the bamboo out back bent down to the ground under the weight of it.

What about church? The choir has been rehearing Advent Lessons and Carols for weeks, and Q and I were both to read. Would anybody but singers and readers attend? Well, if not, then not -- we would just have to sing and read to each other. But a small band of hardy souls filtered in. Most parishioners with children were coming for the pageant later today anyway, when surely the roads would have cleaned up a bit. And the simple service of ancient words and beautiful singing did what it always does, sweetly slowed our spirits so that we could feel our hope focus on the joy soon to come upon us again. Every year, the same: the infant Christ, every time. As long as I live, and no matter what happens, he will never weary me.

This year, a terrible sadness in the little church: a baby girl was stillborn on Friday. Her older sister and brother were in the pageant today, and there was the heartbroken father, come from the hospital to watch them. Oh, yes, life must go on. The other children need what they need, deserve all the love and regard they can get. This great sorrow doesn't change their sweetness, or alter the absoluteness of the claim they have on their parents. But he sat and watched as an angel gave Mary her baby. At least the Baby Jesus got a chance to grow to childhood, and then to adulthood. His little girl won't do that. He left with the children as soon as the pageant was over, out into the snow, their voices like flutes: When is Mommy coming home? And his still, silent little one on his mind as they walk, the cut-off little life that was not to be, so sudden, so wrong, so full of nothing but nevers. Never to be in a Christmas pageant. Never to see snow. Never to hold a little hand and walk out into it in wonder. Never. Nothing but nevers.

This very loss was mine, too, years ago. Just at this time of year, too: Christmas Eve, it was. People who have known it can help each other through it, if only because we know that nothing makes it go away and so we don't try to do that. Sometimes people try to spare us -- they don't mention it, try not to talk about babies to us, afraid it will "remind" us. But go ahead: remind us. It's not as if it's slipped our minds.

Such a terrible time of year for such a thing to happen, many people told me at the time. Oh, I don't know about that. This is a time of year when people are kind, when hope is in the air, a time when we are not afraid to love. This is a time of year when the past is hallowed in our imaginations, and we think with love of all those who loved us, all those whom we have loved. And this is the time of Mary, who loves her son as we love ours, even now, after all these years. Take care of my little one, I have said to her many times, until I get there myself. A foolish thought, I suppose, but who cares? This is a time of year when it's okay to be foolish, okay to cry, when it's not especially conspicuous to be a little blue. Oddly, this is a time of year when the dead seem very near us, and comfortingly so.

It will not always be this bad. It is now, but it will change as time goes on. You'll never forget -- why would you want to forget? -- but the loss will become part of your life and your life will become possible again. Not the same, but possible. And it will also be joyful again, later on, as absurd as that claim seems in the days immediately following such an unthinkable loss. I do not say all these things to the stricken mother and father, not all at once. There will be plenty of time for talk as time goes on.

It's so cold outside. I came in only halfway through the project of hanging ropes of evergreen out on the porch -- not dressed for it, with only a shawl against the cold. I'll finish tomorrow, by daylight, with some proper clothes on. So often, I am ill-prepared for the tasks I set myself. It's a wonder I don't catch my death, as my mother used to say. Not an expression I use myself. We don't have to catch our death. It is nearer than we think already.
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