Christmas was a blur of humanity and western landscape, a few of my favorite things. I flew home Tuesday night, played Christmas Wednesday morning with my sister Dami – I was too excited to give her climbing shoes and take them for a smear to wait until Christmas day, when the gym would be closed and I would be back in Salt Lake.
Our Christmas Eve climb date, following in the monthly tradition we’ve had going since September, was a trash-talking giggle fest, with a pleasant surprise this time; we met a new climb/ski buddy, a fellow Idaho native who we both agreed probably crossed our paths by divine inspiration. Family time was mellow, full of good humor about bad times, awful jokes and retelling of good times. The best part of family is nestling in to a world where people are irreplaceable, where you aren’t anonymous, where every interaction is tangibly laced with history and understanding. Christmas morning, I woke up hung over from a late night chat/debate with mom, drove across an unusually snow-coated Boise, built Lego creatures with my bro TJ for hours, breakfasting with his side of the family, and stopping to see Grace for the first time in over a year. (A year is far too long to go without being even remotely near my “other” sister!) After that happy chain of events, I set sail to the skies, being only briefly delayed in the Boise airport – which, if you’ve flown through there, you might know that it’s just a fancy glass birdcage. The resident birds of the east corridor were chirping away by the B gates, singing Christmas songs – foreshadowing for the flight, where an enthusiastic and off-key flight attendant chirped a “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” on behalf of Southwest Airlines. Christmas night found me right at home in my present location, with another family I love dearly and treasure my time with. Holidays are special, not because of dates and obligation, but rather the collective good will and love that seems to reach through the Universe and tie people together, regardless of the "reason for the season."
Today, the barely-four, adorable little girl I was skiing with looked up and said, "This is fun, I love you." I looked right back at her and said "I love you too, McKenzie." Cheesy as that may sound, it was a simple, beautiful interchange. In my personal, non-public writing, I've been musing about that expression often, for months. Frankly, I've feared it, held it back, kicked it away from me and pretended I didn't hear it more than a few times. In my young adult mind, "I love you" had implications, expectations, held a certain level of the harnesses of the enemy: commitment. Over a year ago, I found myself in a house where that changed.
It was my first experience living with a family, a whole family whose ties and security hadn't been charred by the firestorm of divorce, for the first time in well over a decade. "I love you" was a liberally applied statement of affection, for those little moments simple greeting at the door, jubilant expressions during passionate conversations on any topic, part of the ointment routine for the bruises and bumps of children. "I love you" was written in the dish suds of that house, scrolled in the hardwood floors, placed in vases in the center of the kitchen table. Honestly, it made me uncomfortable for a while, and I didn't know what to say. The "I love yous" never abandoned me or begged a return of sentiment, no matter how quiet I was, how little heed I gave them.
In time, I had come to understand that reciprocation is not a requirement of a sincere "I love you," and tear-jerkingly emotional, expectation-laced yoking wasn't part of the game either. In fact, saying "I love you" isn't a game at all.
In a way, living there healed my negative associations with the words, and better yet, it healed the pathways between my heart and my brain, where "I love you" didn't send me running for the broom closet when I felt it bubbling to the surface of my own emotions, and the idea of someone feeling and expressing love for me didn't send me turtling into the collar of my own shirt.
Not that I've shouted it from the rooftop, or desecrated it with over-use or misapplication. I'm miles from that kind of behavior. But I have said it where it counts, and no longer fear the words "I love you" where they rightly belong and are backed by sincere feeling.
On a lighter note, I adore flying. For one thing, I get whole hours to sit still, uninterrupted. No matter how little I have in terms of luxury, even the cheapest flight feels like an opulence high. Something about being sardined in a sailing tin can with a bunch of folks I don’t even know, who clutch novels I’ve never read and share my oxygen, just seems oh-so exciting. The journey is always beautiful, in all my travels, but when I elect to take a plane, it usually means something about the destination is worth hurrying for, and I love the feeling of that energy coursing through me – anticipation, excitement.
I hope your year dwindles away in a sequence of beautiful winter days, and unfolds into an advent of re-birth, the turn of a pristine page on which you can write whatever you please.
In the traditional Icelandic way of saying goodbye, which I’ve become fond of…