It’s 3 AM,
and “Pachelbel’s Canon” is on loop in my head.
So much for a silent night.
Is that too much to expect after a year of noise?
More music. More tossing and turning. More of the sheet escapes from its comfy home between mattress and box spring. Newly exposed feet embrace a cold winter’s night (also great for sleep).
At least it’s not “Tom’s Diner” this time
Those are really long nights.
I squint to make out a blurred 4-something on the clock.
Oh no. Please Lord, no.
It comes—eventually—and the string quartet pulsing through neurons fades away, like the end of a Cyndi Lauper balled. Yeah, those live rent-free in my brain too.
“Hallmark’s revenge!” is my husband’s empathetic retort to this not-so-silent night.
“Two days ago. You, in the living room, watching one. ‘Cannon in D’ was playing.”
“Oh yeah. A Royal Christmas Mistletoe Miracle in Winterville,” I say, inhaling my coffee.
I search for a snarky counter, but fail. I’m too tired and he’s right.
This year my friend Vannae and I created a Christmas booster shot of sorts, as our overall holiday joy is seriously laggy. We rank every Hallmark holiday movie we see on a spreadsheet and track things like:
“Protagonist Wears Scarf,”
“Viable Relationship Threat,”
“Protagonist Diversity” (still grossly lacking),
“Protagonist Dresses Like Santa/Helps Children,” and
We recently added “Kiss Caliber,” as Vannae will tell you that character chemistry sometimes just ain’t happening in Hallmark-land, even with strategically-placed mistletoe; also script, plot, character development, and music. (Exhibit A: “Pachelbel’s Cannon in D.”)
You may at this point—along with my husband—ask why. Why would anyone spend their precious moments of leisure in pursuit of Hallmark-induced bliss?
Protagonist takes the promotion in New York City—it’s always New York City—and leaves her small-town-Santa-hat-store-owner-high school-sweetheart behind. But as she wistfully ice skates around Rockefeller Center with a city suitor who hates dogs, she peers into a midnight-clear sky and sees her true love’s face in the stars. It’s a Christmas boyfriend constellation, and now everything really is clear. Cue fake snow falling through evergreens that have sprung up in the middle of NEW YORK CITY, “Pachelbel’s Cannon in D” double time, and all is right with the world again.
Except it isn’t.
Vannae and I can dish about our movies via Zoom, but it’s not the same.
Zoom feels hollow. We feel hollow.
We’re not the same. Nothing is the same.
Traditions like this just hold less magic somehow. And, really, who’s actually working out anymore? You may wonder why we’re still even trying.
Honestly, we don’t have an answer.
I’m squinting to trace the fire boundaries dotted across Google Maps.
My friend Leslie texts me that the flames are within a few hundred feet of her parents’ house. They’re not sure if it’s still standing.
Remnants of pine needle ash float downward, peppering my shirt with flakes like dirty snow.
I zoom in on Rocky Mountain National Park and cursor over the rocks, hills, and plains that stole my heart decades ago.
Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, Nymph Lake—all safe—for now.
But Moraine Park? Beaver Meadows?
Oh no. Please, Lord, no.
I scour Facebook for field reports. A firefighter pans the burn scene at Fern Lake Trailhead to show the charred “new normal.”
I think about the tree they escaped from and how far they’ve traveled to find me here.
His voice is accepting, data-driven, steady as he pans over to the river: “The trees that have died, they’ll eventually fall over and become part of the soil for the next generation. . . . You can see now the hardwoods and aspens are going to be leafy and green next year, but it will look different.”
Miles away, I sit on my deck and breathe the campfire air I’ve been taking in over the past few months. Remnants of pine needle ash float downward, peppering my shirt with flakes like dirty snow. I think about the tree they escaped from and how far they’ve traveled to find me here. I wonder how many more will fall to the flames and why they insist on lapping up so much beauty. I wonder if it will ever feel the same.
I have no answer.
It wasn’t the seven-year itch.
Did she cry with inconsolable grief over life lost: her husband’s, and in ancient Israel, her own? Did she mouth the words in Hebrew when mourning stole her voice?
“Oh no. Please Lord, no.”
Did she find comfort—eventually even joy—in the reliable corners of her world? In friends, family, or tradition? Was it enough?
She never remarried. Now 84, she keeps to the temple: seeking, serving, fasting, praying—night and day. She is a prophetess who profits only in her Lord’s presence. In a moment, her eyes behold Him, veiled in flesh. A baby, offered up and blessed.1 Salvation, Revelation, Consolation. A green Shoot from the stem of Jessie.2 The Light.
She didn’t have to wonder.
Nothing would ever be the same.
She needed no answer.
She was looking at It.
I lie in bed, restless, and try to mute the scratched vinyl on repeat in my head.
It’s another sleepless night as Andy Williams intrusively bellows “He’ll be coming down the chimney, down!” With all the uncertainty in this season, silence is too much to hope for.
Can noise and wonder, fear and joy actually coexist? Like that first night? It was anything but silent. Somehow, still, it was holy.
I toss and turn, but my feet aren’t cold. Vannae and I exchanged gifts early this year.
Mine: a pair of the coziest “If you can read this, I’m watching a Hallmark Christmas movie” socks ever. Hers: a “Warm and Cozy like a Hallmark Channel Movie” ornament now on her tree. I smile at the solidarity.
Maybe we’re not so distant after all.
I think about the fires—now mostly contained thanks to cooler temperatures, phenomenal firefighters, and snow. I play back another field report in my head. (Move on down the chimney, Andy.) One of the crew stands in what’s left of Beaver Meadows. The ground fuels are burned off as far as you can see.
“Here in the meadow,” she smiles, “we’re already seeing grass coming back.”
I smile too and imagine shoots of green pushing up through the ashes.
I think of the prophetess Anna,
a lifetime of waiting,
and her brush with Redemption.