A week before Christmas, five evergreen trees were delivered to our house on a flatbed truck and brought down our driveway with a forklift. Twelve feet tall and 400 pounds each, they were to make a new hedge to screen us from an unpleasant view.
I felt uncomfortable about the ease with which this operation was completed — the former spindly trees sawed down in a couple of hours, the new trees purchased over the phone with a credit card, deep holes dug in the mud by a crew of men.
When they were all planted in a row, they looked so beautiful and I thought of decorating them with lights. But to celebrate what? Our continued fortune? The five trees, plus the one in our house encircled by a cascade of presents, reminded me where I stand in this lopsided world.
2020 showed us the devastation that has always been here, and as we watched, it got much worse. Outside the Target in Tenleytown, people in rags beg at the door. At food pantries, lines of cars wait all night for a bag of sustenance. All across America, tens of millions will not have enough to eat this winter. And yet Jeff Bezos made 90 billion dollars this year, Mark Zuckerberg made 46 billion, and Elon Musk made 68 billion, increasing his wealth by 277%. I am a part of this world. How do I walk through it?
“I am grateful for our strong house and this safe neighborhood,” I say to the kids when I tuck them into bed, thinking of the foster child who asked Santa for a coat, help with school, and running water.
Acknowledging all that I have fills me with warmth, banishing the emptiness that keeps me grasping. All the jumbled messages that criss-cross my mental space flutter down, and I can see again. I think if I continue to allow other people’s suffering into my heart again and again, I will stay human. I will act from a place of love, not defense.
When I protect myself from the world, I close off a part of myself. The part that sees and feels. I start to walk stiffly. My eyes cloud up. I become hard. A gingerbread woman in a land of my own making.
The children and I built a gingerbread village this year, bonding the panels of spiced bread with royal icing. We edged the shingles with sugar pearls, decorated the window mullions with jimmies, then added gumdrop trees and jujube flowers around a pond of sparkling sugar.
This gingerbread world — that we break apart after the holiday, that never tastes as good as it looks — reminds me to stay human. Be broken and ragged. Never too sweet, never too bitter. Always unfinished.