January, 2018 … in 23 minutes
Life has high points and low; most would agree. But I’m sure that I have had far more than my fair share of the high ones, and few higher than this. This moment, right now.
It’s Christmas Eve. Last week we returned, 17 of us, from several nights at sea. My Favourite Wife and I, Teen Girl, our five other children and our seven grandchildren. The trip had been almost a year in planning with escalating expectation as the date for our departure oh-so-gradually crept closer. The weather, a focus of somewhat self-centred prayer, was perfect every day. We sailed down Sydney Harbour on a cool, crystal clear afternoon; we had just enough cloud on Fraser Island to make it a lovely, balmy day; and the sea was mostly calm with a just bit of chop through the night. Even returning through Sydney Heads almost obscured by thick mist and cloud turned out to be ideal as the day was a good 15 degrees cooler than the previous day’s 38℃. Our other petition, for everyone’s good health, was equally fulfilled. Of course, those are only the practicalities around a family reunion, which is where the real joy was found.
And if that weren’t enough, I am, right now, writing from our Lake Cottage. Shortly my best girl will arrive with supplies, and sometime today or tomorrow we will be joined by a couple more of our children and perhaps a grandchild or three. Truthfully, its more of an oldish caravan with a sturdy annex and shady verandah than an actual cottage. But it is lake-side! From our verandah we can see at least 20 yards of water through a gap between two other “cottages” … as long as Lake Hume, once one of the largest dams in the world, is reasonably full. Today our view is a shrinking 3 yards, but just a short walk reveals the full, majestic panorama of the lake against the hills and mountains that surround it. We know of one spot where we can see alpine snow in the distance … not today, obviously. The “Karenvan”, as we call it, became ours only days before we left for our sea voyage, and this is our first overnight stay. Our decision to buy was impulsive, and inspired, made within hours of inspecting the cabin, which itself was only two days after my Favourite saw it advertised in the local paper. Fourteen minutes from our home and we are in another world.
The park is full of trees, green and lush, and full of lovely, ordinary people that we are already getting to know. Everyone walks, or rides a bike, and we call out hello and discover they are friends of friends, it’s a neighbourly community. We dream of our children coming here, with us and without us, and it’s terribly easy to picture our grandchildren riding past on their bikes, swimming in the big pool round the corner, laughing, playing and growing up in the years ahead.
This photo is a leap back in time, showing my great grandmother, my grandparents and their children working together to build a much loved holiday house from stone and timber. It’s one of my favourite images, reminding me that homes, and families, are built with care. Just how we came to own a Cottage on the Lake is a curious tale of family connections that will remain hidden, perhaps for years, but one day will be delightful to tell.
Christmas Eve, we agree in our family, is much superior to Christmas Day, and infinitely preferred over Boxing Day. Christmas Eve is the day of anticipation, one of our language’s most delicious words. A day so abundantly full of what-might-be! A relentlessly hopeful day; year by year I experience a sense that anything at all is possible.
Heavens, perhaps Trump will resign, move to Fáskrúðsfjörður, and the western world will forsake fossil fuel! Dreams more personal, of course, are the ones most cherished. I recently listened to an interview that challenged my very strict “anti-Santa” leanings of the past, when I regarded Mr. Claus as a false doctrine, if not the antichrist, set to undermine the truth of Christian faith – as if faith could so easily be lost. The speaker had analysed Christmas movies from many countries and several decades, concluding that the vast majority contained strong, spiritual themes: prayer, expressed in letters to Santa and in the wistful longings of grownups; grace in some form or other, often in the reuniting of a family, a community, or forgiveness of the past; gifts freely given; and miracles performed, often for the poor, and frequently for the utterly underserving.
It is now 11.37pm. Our noisy not-so-young children have finally failed in their annual attempt to stay awake till midnight. Mrs. Claus (my Favourite Santa) and I have outlasted them yet again, and now the serious work of setting gifts under our makeshift, gum-leaf Christmas Tree can begin. Then I must finally outlast Mrs. Claus, so I can put a small but unexpected piece of jewellery in one of the stockings I had earlier hung under the kitchen bench. However I look at it, our lake cottage, our family, life itself, is wondrous.
PS. Now it’s New Year’s Eve, and here we are once again, in the Karenvan. Uppity Kate has read this page to me in her rather superior way, and life is still wondrous.
As always, I would be delighted to hear your thoughts.