Yesterday, the family drove four hours south and east (and back again) to complete our holiday gift exchange. Christmas has always been an Ebenezer in our atlas of remembrance, marking the passage of pain and joy and momentum toward wholeness. We snap bleary-eyed pictures of one another in bad lighting to ratify giving and receiving gifts we won't remember next year, knowing the ritual has little to do with lighting or lenses. It is our chronicle to and for one another, love and care flashing and shuttering in exclamations of excitement, surprise, delight and contentment. Like every good family tradition, we can't remember whether happenstance or willpower gave rise to our strange customs; cinnamon rolls and ad hoc nativity glamour shots seem an immutable and inextricable part of the holiday glow. A there-and-back-again jaunt to Houston meets its share of consternation for any occasion, but the long stretches of highway 45 and gallery of anonymous strip malls are redeemed when they become the setting of heart-to-hearts and clandestine Taco Bell runs with Mom, sandwiched in between not-quite-big-enough table fellowship at the local Cheddar's and a dose of sharing and bearing trials and questions for one another amid wrapping paper shreds and unpacked electronics. I realize that I would double the drive time for just one cadence with the only people on the planet who have never been strangers to me, one snapshot to place at the top of the pile in the frame on my desk, one parting sigh to remind me how fiercely precious each one is to me in his or her own path to my heart, stamped out by years of taking evening walks, tag-teaming dirty dishes, caring for picked-off scabs and sharing (and resharing) life's most inconsequential memories that resonate with transcendence in the plane of time. As my own atlas sees the kaleidoscope of color marking the topography of radical transition, their companionship becomes more dear and their words and shoulder squeezes more loftily held in moments when we couldn't be together if we tried. During this brief respite from my Mexico meanderings, I have been disappointed that family time was not the grainy reel I had edited in my memory but ultimately grateful that our time together offered tints and shades to remind me of an ultimately sweeter and more redemptive reality.
After breaking down the boxes and nibbling on leftovers, we procrastinated the return trip by being silly and napping and sitting quietly with one another as the sun inverted its rays through the western window. I clicked through a few frames to capture the vibe, heart-smiling the whole time.