Thursday, November 20, 2014

Hang a Shining Star upon the Highest Bough

“Through the years we all will be together / if the fates allow / hang a shining star upon the highest bow.”

These song lyrics are bittersweet to me. I hear them every year from late October through the New Year – in supermarkets, shopping malls, and on the car radio. In some renditions, singers focus on singing technically well. They sound bright. Hopeful. Festive. Ready to deck the halls with boughs of holly. In other recordings, you can hear the skillful and subtle touch of melancholy in these words – melancholy that echoes the pain, remembrance, and ultimately, healing that these lyrics represent in my life.

I did not get to see my dad often when I was young. He lived in California while I lived in Texas, and my mom actively worked to keep us apart. As I entered 5th grade, my parents reached a compromise. If we would move to California and grant my dad visitation, he would pay our rent and bills. It was an offer my mom couldn’t refuse. Not only did we have a quaint apartment in an old Victorian building, but I was also enrolled in an amazing private school where students were grouped by ability, not by age. Synergy School was housed in a Victorian house around the corner from the famous “painted ladies” at Alamo Square Park in San Francisco. We kept pet rabbits, went on frequent field trips to interesting museums, and spent an hour each day at the park for lunch. I could expound the virtues of that school at length, but I will save that for another post.

My dad often picked me up from school, took me to even more museums (I really love museums), taught me about the city’s history and architecture, and patiently listened to my pubescent rants. We really bonded in a short period of time, and I looked forward to spending as much time as possible with him.

And that’s when everything changed. There were several reasons why my mom felt it necessary to move back to Texas, but the fact that she worried that I relied on my dad more than her was paramount among them. Her decision was made. An intense confrontation ensued that I will never forget. We packed everything we owned (my stuff only filled a suitcase) and moved back overnight. It was Christmas Eve. I didn’t get to say “goodbye.”

When my dad entered our abandoned apartment, he found miscellaneous clutter left behind. You know, the sort of stuff that doesn’t seem important during a hasty escape. Among these items, a star remained on top of the tree. I had crafted the star with materials I had available: aluminum foil and a toilet paper roll.

Years later, my dad told me how he took that star home and placed it on his tree each year, hoping that he would soon see me again. During one happy Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s house, reunited, he told me this story as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” played in the background. He called the lyrics to my attention and told me how they always reminded him of that star and the years we spent apart. Once a painful reminder, now “the fates” allowed us to be together.

Sadly, my dad passed away a few years later. There are only 3 items I wish I could have retrieved from his home, and that star was one of them. Unfortunately, it was thrown out by well-meaning friends sorting through items.

I told this story to a small group of students one October with whom we were supposed to share pivotal moments in our lives. That Christmas, a boy named Jesus gave me a foil star to replace the one lost all those years ago. That small act of kindness meant more than that student will ever know, and helped me in the healing process. I spent years feeling almost Grinch-like about Christmas because of the painful memories associated with it, but that gesture reminded me of the compassion that my dad epitomized. Now, I greet Christmas with the goal of spending as much time as possible with those I love. I feel hopeful. Festive. Ready to deck the halls with boughs of holly. Well, I'm getter closer anyway...

The foil star that Jesus gave me, Dec. 2012

1 comment:

  1. You are so brave in sharing the vulnerable moments of your life. You inspire me, and I am certain you inspire your students. Love you, friend.