I watched three-year-old Ella dance around tonight, bouncing in her little pink pajamas, with a glittery ribbon in her hair, clutching Chaucer—soft new teddy bear—to her chest and hopping from one person to the next, wrinkling up her nose as she smiled and shrieked. The “adults” played Pictionary, shared versions of “flipping the bird” among generations, laughed until our faces were all red and our silly—and sometimes obscene—drawings covered the table. I’m quite sure there was cheating on the boys' team, with the game board, the timer, all of it. We, the Butvins, piled into Dad’s SUV and drove back home—Dad barely keeping his eyes open, the new Coldplay EP softly whispering. The clouds looked purple out the car window, matching the hue of the fizzy Arbor Mist wine I drank all night. They billowed and bunched like theater curtains around the horizon, revealing a deep, wide, black sky with glittering stars.
Christmas Eve has always seemed a magical night, starting with a shared memory of laying awake listening for hooves on the roof and ceaseless anticipation. Now, at 27, with an ear long since tuned out to rooftop intruders, this night is one of reflection. For me it’s a few moments I’ve been meaning to take for myself since Thanksgiving. A few moments of gratitude—for the cup to flow over a bit. I rented a car to drive home for Thanksgiving. Shortly after getting on the road, a small rainbow appeared right in the middle of the sky, right in the middle of my windshield, and hung out like the north star. The sky melted to a soft pink, reflecting on icy farm fields. I remember spending those hours overcome with gratitude.
Last week, as I finished up my last yoga class in DC, my teacher said something a bit out of the ordinary. It was a fantastic class, one with many moments of the simultaneous joy and serenity that one sometimes achieves in yoga. As we sat in the dark, sweaty and cross-legged, she said “someone once gave me a box of darkness. It took me a long time to recognize that it, too, was a gift.”
I was the recipient this year—one box of darkness addressed to me. At first I was confused. I opened it up and tried to scrub away the deep black contents. I put on rubber gloves and went to work. But as soon as I had a clean spot, the dark seeped back in. Knowing that I couldn’t change it, I instead tried to wear it. I put the dark box on my head and wore it as a hat, insisting it was stylish. But it kept falling down over my eyes, and I felt annoyed that I couldn't see. It was too big and weighed too much and it made me hunch as I walked. Finally, I set it down on the sidewalk and didn’t know what to do. So I tried to climb into it. It took some contortion, but I managed to fit inside. I closed the lid. But, as I settled in and tried to get comfortable, I took a good look around. It didn’t take long to see that this wasn’t my place. This box wasn’t my vessel—or at least it wasn’t going to transport me to anywhere I wanted to go. So I climbed back out, a little thinner for all the effort, my insides bruised-up from the folding and twisting and trying. I climbed out and sat down and took a long hard look at the box. It looked no worse for wear, and sat on the table, beckoning me to make use of it in some way, to do something with it.
The box is still sitting there on the table. I look at it every day. Sometimes I do a little circle around it, and then stand over it—hover a toe with the thought of climbing back in. But it keeps shrinking, day-by-day. Knowing that I could never again bend myself to fit inside, instead I put my toe back onto the solid earth and go for a walk. I breathe and I feel better, little by little. I walk, I breathe, and I dream. I dream that I’m waist-deep in warm, salty water, holding the box in front of me, setting it down in the surf. Sending it off, lovingly, as the sea catches on and sweeps it far from my reach. And then I whisper a little prayer. Namaste.
I’m thankful for so many things, little and big. A floppy Henry belly-up on my lap while I finish the last pages of Deep Survival. Re-learning to ride a bike. Spontaneous and uncontrollable laughter with so many incredible friends. The prospect of one day enjoying long weekend mornings in bed. Couch surfers that end up staying and sharing so much. Finally going upside-down. The joy that’s bubbling up as the year closes and the road opens up. Lucy. Uganda. Even the dark box. The feeling of gratitude for all of what I already have experienced, plus what I know I will someday enjoy, is almost too much to bear.
This life is so rich.
There are moments, like driving home for Thanksgiving with the rainbow and pink ice, where I scream to the divine:
THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!
And there are moments, like the purple clouds rolling back to reveal the glittering black sky, where I close my eyes and whisper it:
(Thank you, thank you, thank you.)
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