"Have a good Christmas," one of my students said to me.
"I'll try my best to do just that," I said.
Another student piped up: "You don’t sound like you mean it."
"Well," I said, "I kind of hate Christmas."
"Why in the world would anyone hate Christmas?" he asked.
"I have a dead child," I said.
"Oh, yeah." He bowed his head and felt a little bad, which wasn't my intent. I don’t expect everyone to go around remembering that my son is dead, and I'm glad it's not the only thing that defines me. But still---I did answer his question. And there are a lot of people who kind of hate Christmas, and generally for good reasons. But they keep their mouths shut about it, and duck the whole Jesus-Is-Lord and Shop-Till-You-Drop thing so everyone else can have a good time.
I decided to write the intro for Thelonius' Stocking Blog this year as a gift to my family. Some people might interpret that I made this a gift because it would be a cheap---even free---gift. But it is hardly that. It has been the most difficult thing I have written in years, easily. I wanted to make this a gift because it gets overwhelming. By "it" I mean the grief. I mean the thinking about a child you'll never get to hang with or watch play a game or do anything with or see ever again. By "it" I mean the sadness, the longing. I mean the sightings of six year old boys who fit the general description of Theo were he a living, breathing six year old today. I mean the crushing blues that accompany the knowledge that Theo will never enjoy Christmas like everyone else gets to. I mean the feeling that if we don't keep a blog, it'll be disrespectful to our brave little boy. It's difficult to be cheerful and write about the season of light and joy and happiness and crap like that when my child is dead. And so I thought I'd take the burden off Karla this year.
"But your daughter is healthy," another student said.
"Yes," I said. "And I'll make sure her Christmas is great. That doesn’t mean my son isn’t dead."
She bowed her head and felt a little bad. I think it's okay that she felt a little bad. Lula isn't a stand in, she is not a substitute, and it is not her job to take my mind away from my dead Theo. I realize that some folks likely never will understand this. But so what if they don't? Perhaps they shouldn't. Perhaps you can only really understand what it feels like to have your child die if your child dies. To have your baby die in your arms is an experience I'd wish on no one. There's only so much I could say to my student, terrified that a conversation concerning a dead baby was actually occurring; all she had wanted was a good Christmas. I had the feeling she was now thinking about something she'd never considered before. So I left it at that. I also had the feeling that she will have a good Christmas. And if she won’t have a good Christmas, I hope I opened the door for her to come talk about it, which is what people who kind of hate Christmas need to do---they need to talk about it.
Nah, I think. None of this can go on Theo's Stocking blog. This is the season of light and joy…who'd wanna read this dreck?
For me, though, this blog has become a sort of antidote to the rest of the year. For me, it's not really about Christmas at all. It's about expressions of good. Christmas is the excuse for people to do good things and send them to us. When I get blue thinking about my dead son and the subjects I research and teach---genocides, wars, rape, racism, prison, waste, fraud---I need a reminder of the good. And I know there is good, massive amounts of it, and that all the good outweighs all the evil we constantly see and hear about all the time; it’s just that goodness is quieter than evil, and evil makes press. If it weren't the case that there is more good than evil in the world, this blog and this writing and you and I might possibly not be here.
But still a wall remained: what could I write as an intro to this blog? I've spent a week thinking about what to write. I sat and thought and I stood up and thought and I sat back down and thought. I came to nothing. So instead of staring out my own window into my own muddy backyard with my crabby old eyes, I decided to go shopping!
Some choice I made.
I went to a store, a big store crammed with consumers. Lots of people hustling around, buying more than they can afford, checking off lists, haggling, arguing, texting while carting, making messes of the clothes and toys and expensive coffee makers. Sensory overload. So as I watched, I inwardly focused more, again, still on what I'd post as the intro to this blog. I could write what I saw: In this season of shoving and plastic objects…
Who'd want to read that?
I wandered to toddlers' apparel. There were less people there; it’s difficult to maneuver a cart through the close-packed racks. I compared the scant variety of shirts available for girls: in one hand I held up a yellow shirt with princesses on it, and in the other a pink shirt with princesses on it. I shook my head, replaced the clothes on their racks, and wandered closer to the boys clothes: better colors, less pink, more patterns, greater variety, less Disney. I remained hyperaware not to look at anything I would clothe Theo in---and then, just then, a woman stopped me to ask how old my son was.
I can only imagine the expression I made. I remember stammering something in way of a response, but I don’t know what the hell it was. I felt like she'd punched me in the gut.
"You do have a son?" she said.
"Well," I said, hot-faced, trying to breathe, "that's a tricky question. I don't. Not now. I did. But he died. He died of a tumor, a brain tumor, a big brain tumor in his head." I felt like an idiot: of course a brain tumor is in a head, dolt!
"Oh," the woman said. "I'm sorry."
"Yeah, well, me too," I said, but I'd said it all wrong. I didn’t mean it the way it came out, gnarled and loathing. The woman meant no harm. It was the cancer that had killed him. "I'm sorry, " I said. "I mean 'thank you.' But why?"
"What?" she said. "Why what?"
Why did he have to die? I didn't say. Instead: "Why are you asking me about my son?"
"I just thought… I'm buying this shirt…" Red with navy trim, the shirt depicted a little bright train about to enter a little dark tunnel.
"Oh," I said.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"Oh," I said. "No, don’t be sorry." But do be sorry, I didn’t say. "Buy it bigger than it needs to be. He'll grow into it," I said, and didn’t add if he's lucky. If you're lucky. If everyone is lucky.
"Thank you," she said.
"No, thank you," I said. "I mean, you're welcome." I didn’t know what I meant or what had just happened. Why had I set myself up for this certain doom? Damn toddlers' apparel!
I felt like I couldn’t breathe at all. I thought I was going to fall over. I had to get away. I weaved to the exit through a maze of kids: blond boys, black boys, Asian girls, brothers and sisters, Indian boys, white girls, Asian boys, Mexican boys and brown and yellow and red and green and purple children, children, children everywhere, a rainbow of children.
And then, all at once, I could breathe again. A rainbow of children.
A rainbow of children is the antidote to the shoving frustration, the breathlessness, the anger of adults destroying each other: they start wars and take each others' homes and money and jobs; they slaughter wholesale and claim it in the name of god and heaven; they rape and murder for pleasure and they hate each other to death. So if there's anything I want this blog to do, and it can do this simple thing, I want it to serve as a reminder of good. It really is simple after all. A rainbow of children has to give up a lot of energy, creativity and brilliant, clever engagement to end up like us tired old saggy big people. So, while they are still young, I'd like to dedicate this blog this year to a rainbow of children, and also to Thelonius who didn’t get to be part of the rainbow very long, and to Lula, who stands big and loud smack-dab in the middle of the rainbow, and to Karla, for whom I hope the good of the blog serves as antidote to those crushing Christmas blues.