You’ve Got Mail starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks came out when I was in eighth grade. I remember sitting in the theatre loving everything about Meg’s character from her love of New York in the fall to her pencil skirts. I could imagine myself as the owner of a quaint little bookstore in a big city. There is a scene (spoiler alert if you have managed to survive the last almost 20 years without seeing You’ve Got Mail) where Meg’s character, Kathleen Kelly, is saying goodbye to her bookstore. She stands in the middle of the now empty shelves and tables remembering what once was. The scene speaks of emptiness and loss as she locks up her little shop for the last time walking away with the bell she’d used on her door, it’s tinkling oddly unfamiliar in the New York night.
Traditions are funny, some traditions you wonder why and wish you could try something new, some you tolerate for the people who enjoy them, then there are the ones that make you happy. They bring stability and security with them. Like a heavy blanket you can feel warm and protected by a tradition. Every year the same thing happens and it signals that all is as it should be.
This year my traditions feel out of whack. I am trying to hang on to them but they are all a bit tilted. Like a picture you hang on the wall by yourself. Up close it seems to be lined up but when you take a step back you realize it is a little off and doesn’t set just right. That is how I feel this year about Christmas. The tree is up, the gingerbread house made, my office is full of presents, carols are being sung in the cutest 3 year old voice from the back seat but when I sit on the couch at the end of the day my heart isn’t singing like it normally does. The traditions that mattered in the past feel harder this year and less important. They are missing pieces, an incomplete puzzle.
There is an emptiness that loss brings that echoes like Meg Ryan’s empty shop. What once was there, isn’t anymore. You look around and things that were so familiar are foreign. People fill shelves in the rooms of your soul with who they are and what they bring and when they are missing the holes are gaping.
Loss is real. We can’t shove loss into a corner like my children do their toys when they “clean” their room. It doesn’t cram into a closet to be forgotten about. Loss is an empty chair, a depleted bank account, a dead dream. The presence of loss is loud in a silent sort of way begging to be acknowledged yet no one knows how, it can feel too harsh to call it by it’s name.
Then there is Shalom, Peace. Jesus, Emmanuel, brought peace to the earth when he was born and brings it today to those who ask for it. He ushers it in to the empty places of your soul. They can live together, peace and loss and in fact I think they must for us to heal and transform into the deeper people loss can make us.
Depth is what I crave. In me, in others, in this season in all seasons, in tradition. Depth that takes us past the look of the thing to the substance of it. It is here in the depths where we show each other the empty rooms of loss and share the sweet fragrance of the Peace Bringer. Where we remind each other, and then ourselves, of the contentment and wholeness that Shalom brings.
Celebrating and traditions shouldn’t be a reason to cover up the experiences of life but to be more fully present in them. Call out the loss. Honor who or what was, and now isn’t and let the sweetness of the Him who is our peace truly work the miracle of “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men” into the empty rooms of your heart this day and every one after.