A Peekskill Christmas - A guest post by Jazz singer, next-door-neighbor & best friend Alexis Cole. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukah!
Margaret is always coming up with great ideas. Like last night when we made and consumed cookies and spiked apple cider at her loft with Brian. We were talking about our shopping and I bragged that I did mine almost exclusively in Peekskill. “You should write a guest post on my blog about it!” I’m in a non-committal phase at the moment, so I said ‘sure’ half heartedly. But now at 2am in my pad with 3 pans of banana bread in the oven, there’s nothing better I can think of, than to tell you about my Peekskill Christmas.
I should start by saying, it’s been a rough season. My family relationships are at a kind of low point. I got an email a few weeks ago with the subject “from your former mother.” I sent her a small Christmas gift anyway, with a card that expressed ambivalence but love nonetheless. I got one from her with a card that was ironic and not funny, and pretty depressing. My father and I have been on the outs too, with me taking big issue with the way they’re dealing with my grandparents living situation. I kind of went on a strike with my father saying that I couldn’t pretend things were ok when they weren’t, and that until a physical change was made with their living situation, I was not going to be on speaking terms with him.
I went to see Mother Carlye at St. Peter’s about two weeks ago. She told me what I knew she would, to pray. Just a few minutes every day from now until Christmas. There have been times in my life when I prayed all the time, and I couldn’t imagine being a person who didn’t pray before bed. But now I’m not praying too much, so it was special for me to ‘go there’. I prayed, and then I returned a phone call to my dad which ended in us having the first decent conversation in months, because he told me that my grandfather was moving on saturday, and so I had to just kinda stop being mad, and make things ok. I hung up the phone, put on pandora radio, and amazingly our recording of my dad’s version of O Come, O Come Emmanuel immediately came on the radio. Crazy, this prayer stuff!
Over the next week, I tried to be feeling better about Christmas, but the 23rd rolled around, and I still hadn’t managed to want to buy gifts for my family. Margaret suggested I just do it, and the feeling would follow the action perhaps. The old fake it til you make it. I threw on a coat and walked around town looking for gifts. I went first to the food co-op and got a gift basket for my dad, who’s really into health food. Then I went to the and got some large print books for grampa, then I went to the Coop, (what a beautifully curated shop) and found a beautiful square angel painting to give to my step-mom. I came home and wrapped and realized that in my shopping and giving care to choosing their gifts, I actually felt better about the relationships.
I woke up today at noon and made brunch for me and Margaret. Then I went to the Raw Life Food Co-op (where Nancy showed me how we can now check out using computers and scanning bar codes!!!) and bought some things to bring with me tomorrow for a christmas/hanukkah celebration. I was wrapping up my cooking at about ten to five, and decided to go to church, though I Really didn’t feel like it. I heard myself say (shockingly) in my head, ‘People just aren’t worth it.’ I didn’t used to be so jaded, but I’m feeling kinda let down lately I guess. I feel kind of icy a lot, and hard. It’s no fun to feel that way, but I feel powerless to change it on my own. I was doing the dishes thinking to myself how could Jesus have died for us, we’re so not worth it. I waited until the last possible second and put some shoes on and went to church, grumbling at myself the whole block there.
I saw some people I know and like, that I’d never seen at church before. Just seeing them, and the warm greeting I got when I walked in, started to crack my shell (which of course is not very calcified). Going to church when I’m feeling icy almost always results in tears, and it was very thoughtful of me to bring a big hankie for myself. It’s good to know yourself. At the passing of the peace, I got an invitation to join a family dinner from a friend, which I reluctantly accepted, cause I wasn’t feeling like good company. During the service my other friend’s daughter made me laugh, and then the next thing I knew they were turning off the lights and a sweet altar girl came by to light our candles. I looked at her in the warm light and we exchanged a smile, and I countered in my head, ‘People are the only thing that’s worth it’.
I went to dinner, it was nice, then I came back to home base and did my end of the year giving, thinking about Clarence Jordan planting pecan trees at Koinonia on christmas eve, which would later become the cash crop of the religious community in Georgia that he’d founded. Then I met Sturgess down in Tarrytown at the awesome Tarry Tavern where he’s chef, and we went to the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow, where they were having a their 325th candle light christmas eve service. The tiny church was absolutely packed, and we sang with much exuberance. Someone passed out in the back of church, and there was a surreal 10 minute interval while we sat in near silence while the EMT’s came and the man was presumed to be ok.
I saw a musical acquaintance after service there who told me the sad and shocking news about Stephen Morris passing away a few months ago. I kept emailing him about getting his music and stand light back to him, he left it last year when we had the Haiti benefit at St. Peter’s. Maybe he knew he was sick? I still have it. That’s kind of weird. He was so full of life and energy, and was really generous with the community. What a huge loss, even for those like me, who weren’t close to him at all.
What’s the takeaway at 3am Dec 25th?
My banana breads are done, Jesus is born. It’s a rocky road, there’s no choice but to walk it, might as well make it worth it. And my prayer takes the form of a line from Angel from Montgomery, whose refrain has been haunting me in these last weeks. Lord, ...Just give me one thing that I can hold on to, To believe in this living, is such a hard way to go.