Holiday Season

Holiday Season

And here it is. Food and decorations and candles and things.

Memories. Sadness.

When there is so much to say there is nothing to say.

It’s very quiet here, neighbors gone away. One family across the street had a son and daughter-in-law and baby arrive yesterday for a visit. The mother stood by the picket fence and hedge, and said hello. Next to her was a woman who could have been her daughter. The two groups faced each other. It wasn’t a cheerful, warm welcome – but they all looked happy enough. I hope they were…and are.

Yesterday I braved the early morning bus to go to Target to buy a pot and a cookie tray. I don’t really know why, as it’s unlikely I’ll make cookies or soup. But you never know. There was a woman across from me who looked the same way I felt. Tired, up early, but determined to get something done before crowds or time or other distractions interfered. There were only women on the bus that early, until the homeless man got on and sat neatly at the back. It looked like he was organizing the shoes he had been given. His face was long, trustworthy, someone you would let guard your business, careful, precise, a little stern. He unfolded one of his carrier bags, and examined it to see if it would hold shoes. Had some enterprise given him a place to be at night? And now the day. That question, what to do with the day. What had led him here now, sitting in the uncertain warmth of the bus, bringing organization to items people had discarded?

A homeless woman got on. She had a suitcase, and an elaborate headdress of a white wooly scarf, with a decorative pom-pom, and another one more colorful intertwined around the first, white shorts, white sweater. If you’d put her in Vogue, and said everything cost two thousand dollars, you would have believed that she was stylish. Dressing with care on the unstylish streets filled with torn yellow banners advertising car sales, empty lots and dialysis centers, entry roads to highways, ugly new ochre and red brick apartment buildings, a old church, a new church, a demolition site still not refilled. The black stockings she wore under the shorts were covered up partially by white knee high socks. The bus waiting quietly at the red lights until someone must have said something to her about not wearing a mask, and she began to rant about germs, and things being unclean, and going to the hospital, and started to curse the world, the germs, the people. Everyone looked sad. Just a bus ride. Just going out on an early morning bus ride. Some shopping before the holidays. The woman across from me sat quietly. What had she seen in the years she had lived so far? I wanted to ask her. Because in that strange desperate way, the way you feel when no one ever wants to hear your story, I wanted to hear hers.

I bought Christmas lights. And hooks. I wanted to buy garland strands of tinsel. A display rack had them hung temptingly, arrayed in neat sparkly lines, ready to be snapped up by shoppers eager for the holidays. The ones at the end were a dark blue color, like the night sky over the warm and cozy pubs in the muffin mysteries I seem to be reading lately. Everything works out in those books. Families reconciled, bullies reduced, homes rediscovered. But someone once told me I had too many tinsel strands, and that I put them up wrong. I threw them all out at the last move, a bag of faded colors, more plastic than silver. There’s no point in rebuying things, is there?

Is the woman who sat across from me on the bus, with her tired and calm face, having a peaceful Thanksgiving? In the emails at work this week, peace won out over happy as a wish. Maybe she is still wearing that soft pair of grey jeans, protecting her sturdy legs from the uncertain surfaces of the bus seats. Someone had spit on the seat at the very end. You always have to look before you sit down. She looked resigned – it takes something to know how to ride the bus in New York City, especially out in the boroughs. Everyone has a different way to approach it. Can you call it a style, an attitude? If so, it’s one that has nothing to do with the all the breathless blogs on Instagram of the strange things you can see here, a cross between the greatest city on earth, either money and elegance, or rats doing something unexpected. For the ahistorical, that same picturesque view of the tree lined pathways in Central Park, leading to a famous and glittery restaurant someone just learned about so must tell everyone.

They say you get the life you deserve. I’m not so sure. Especially when the faces of the people on the bus don’t match their eyes. Stories easily avoided by staring at the phone, algorithms dividing up things with popularity, the loudest version of the story drowning the world. The quiet truth of things doesn’t advertise.

So happy thanksgiving to everyone. Wherever you are, and whoever you are with, may you find a moment to stare up into the blue tinsel sky and give thanks for all the strange things you have experienced.

Alice Severin © 2021