In my last post, I talked about the idea of a certain balance point filled with potential that exists between movement and stillness. Since then, I made a promise to myself that I would diligently try to watch for examples of such moments in my own daily life, however I think I may have picked a bad week to get started. What was I thinking? I’m sure that most of you will agree with me in saying that there’s no problem finding movement during the holiday season, but stillness can be somewhat elusive. It was a little discouraging, but then I remembered that there is an almost magical moment of calm that descends upon my world every Christmas Eve. Have you had that same experience? It happens late in the afternoon, just as the sun is setting, right before dinnertime. Up until that point, we have been rushing here, there, and everywhere, shopping, and working, or finishing up school or exams, but we’ve finally reached the end. The stores are closed, we’re on vacation, and all the grades are in. It’s time to get started on the Seven Fishes, or whatever your family’s tradition may be. In recent years, this moment usually finds me just pulling up in front of my son Zach’s house. His street is oddly quiet, and the sky is that shade of chilly pink that belongs only to a winter sunset, but there are lights on in all the houses, and there is woodsmoke in the air.
This is a balance point for certain, filled with tremendous potential. There is excitement and happiness, anticipation and joy… all wonderful things, but have you ever noticed that there is something else that hovers at the edge of this particular moment? For me, as I stand in front of Zach’s house listening to the quiet, and looking at the sky, a very distinct feeling sets in. I could call it nostalgia, but I won’t, because that’s a word that I absolutely loathe. It conjures up the Currier and Ives prints that you find in an old doctor’s office or the Waltons all saying goodnight to one another. Additionally, it’s not quite the word we’re looking for because what we’re feeling is not just a yearning for simpler times or our childhood selves. There is more here. I could call it sadness, or melancholy, but that would be going too far. The answer lies somewhere in between the two, but I don’t think there is a word or a phrase in the English language that gets it quite right. In a post entitled Saudade that I wrote back in January of 2019, I mentioned an expression that the French use when they articulate the idea of missing someone. Where we say “I miss you,” they say “Tu me manques” [too-meh-mahnk], or “you are missing from me.” Now we may getting somewhere.
What is it about Christmas Eve that evokes such intense feelings of longing for those people we have loved that are no longer here with us? I think we could begin by saying that there is kind of “thinning of the veil” that occurs on this particular night, but not like on Halloween when the werewolf walking up the street might be exactly that, or the vampire trick-or-treater really wants to be invited inside. It has a great deal to do with memories, and memories have everything to do with what we absorb through our five senses, and those five senses have been inundated in the past few weeks. There are lights, and decorations, and family heirloom ornaments. There are cookies in the oven, and then a plate of our grandmom’s pizzelles or our mom’s chocolate chips sitting in front of us. There is Christmas music playing 24-7, and it’s really nice, until that one song comes on that is just too sad to listen to. And even during the current circumstances of this pandemic, this is still the best time of the year for hugs. We crave human connection, and because we share such a commonality of experience during the holiday season, our realization of who is missing is most certainly intensified, especially if it’s a new loss.
Whether new or old, I find that people handle such loss in vastly different ways. Some are extremely comfortable with feeling that their loved ones are always close by. My dear friend Ellie would talk to her mom all the time, even though she’d been gone for many years. I admired her so much for being able to do that. I definitely have had a different personal experience with the loss of my parents. I am certain of their presence, but only at times, and the closest I feel to them is in my dreams where they occasionally visit me. My dad will breeze in and hand me a tool that he claims I need, prompting me to then spend the next few days thinking about metaphorical meanings. My mom and I have had coffee on a few occasions, and I once walked into a dinner party that they were hosting for their friends, all of whom were also dead. They told me quite emphatically that I needed to leave. As quickly as I could. They didn’t have to tell me twice.
The point is that there are those of us who may be a bit hesitant to allow ourselves to feel as though our loved ones are right here beside us. Maybe we fear that believing too much in this kind of spiritual proximity will land us in the same place as Harry Potter, sitting in front of the mirror of Erised, finding his parents, but losing himself. Or maybe the longing for their physical presence just feels too painful. We want one more knowing glance, one more conversation, one more chance to wrap our arms around them and hold on as tightly as we can. It leads me to wonder whether that moment of calm on Christmas Eve may be one of the biggest balance points of all. Could it be an invitation to safely push the veil aside, or to look into that mirror of Erised if you will? We could then allow ourselves to fill the empty spaces, pausing there for as long as we need to before releasing back to the present. We might even say a few words to those we see there. If you pushed that veil aside this Christmas Eve, what would you say? What would I say to my parents? You already know the answer: you are missing from me. Always, but especially tonight.
For today’s cocktail, I wanted to use ingredients that would remind me of both my parents. My mom loved to bake at Christmastime, and I always thought that oatmeal cookies were her finest work. Thinking about those cookies led me to begin the drink with an imperial stout from Rusty Rail Brewing in Mifflinburg, Pa. It’s called Wolf King and is made with coffee and oatmeal. My dad was a Scotch drinker, but because I like to use craft spirits whenever I can, I chose to go with a malt whiskey that was made right here in Camden NJ at Cooper River Distillers. CRD is now closed, but Recklesstown Farm Distillery, where I currently work, bought the remainder of their products. I think my dad would have loved the fact that a malt whiskey could be made right in the town where he was born. I then added lemon to brighten and balance the deeper flavors in the drink, and finished up with a maple raisin simple. The result was a cocktail that was both intense and fun, with a richness that made you wish it could last forever. I think it would have made my parents smile. Cheers everyone! Happy Friday and Merry Christmas Eve. I hope the holiday brings you peace and joy!
Tu Me Manques
1.5 ounces Wolf King Imperial Stout
1.5 ounces Cooper River Distillers Malt Whiskey
1 ounce lemon juice
1 ounce maple raisin simple
Single strain into an old-fashioned the glass over one large cube.
Garnish with three cranberries to be festive.