Emerging from the Fog



Christmas is filled with anticipation. Twenty four days of children popping open the advent windows to reveal something snowy, a robin, a candy cane, hope. Swiftly followed in the blink of an eye by twelve days of Christmas; the siege of bird and roast vegetables, of fruits dried and soaked and flamed at the table with a sprig of holly on top, mince pies, cream, brandy butter. The flurries are not of snow, but of hastily torn wrapping paper and packaging, no time to settle until the next gift is selected, rattled and exposed. Then on to New Year, to kiss strangers at midnight and promise to mend your ways - for January at least - and finally to the stowing of tinsel and fairy lights, the parched tree dropping its needles as you heave it out the door for the council to remove.

Don't get me wrong. I love Christmas. I love my family, love food, fairy lights, giving and receiving presents, and making cards. But when all this bounty is taken to excess I start to feel bloated and bilious - before I've even consumed a thing. So this year Fin and I made a tree from mounting board and hand printed cards for the people I really love and want to reach out to by post. We planned to eat what we fancied, when we liked. I bought old board games from charity shops. It felt like a start anyway. I don't want to be scrooge, but I want to remember that this time of year is for cosying up with my loved ones and enjoying them - not worrying about how many meals I have to provide.

On the 24th I found that I was ill with what seemed suspiciously like the flu that Nick had the week before. My little sister who came to visit was also coming down with something and decided to go stay at her Dad's. We cancelled my mum, remembering the time she came to stay and Nick gave her Scarlet Fever while I played Florence Nightingale. We battened down the hatches and prepared for a low key Christmas.

At first I was pleasantly tired and a little tickly throaty; my head was sore but I never get ill, so I expected to throw it off soon enough. Still, as Christmas Eve rolled into Christmas day the flu covered me in a drowsy fug and settled into my chest like soot. My head ached and throbbed if I so much as moved a foot from under the covers and turning over would send a volley of rattling coughs, choking through me. My bones ached just like I remembered from my back labour with Fin - the only solution being to ask Nick to press his knuckles hard into my back, and even that provided not enough relief to prevent me from weeping in sheer powerless frustration.

The sensible thing would have been to retire to bed and quietly sleep it out, but I am not a good patient, refusing to lie down and take being ill seriously. As I slept fitfully on the sofa with a tissue over my face, Fin and Nick ate their simple Christmas breakfast and came through to open the presents. From a recumbent position, addled with fever, short sighted and high on painkillers, I gently waved my hand in the manner of the Pope and they began the present opening.

I was minded of a scene from, 'One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest', where the hospital ward fills with fog; patients floating into the narrator's field of vision, converse bizarrely with him for a moment before drifting back out of sight. With each gift found bearing my name, Fin would loom into view all wide eyed, grinning excitement, demanding that I, 'open it, open it!' And away again back to the tree like a Christmas ant to fetch another. Of course between each visit I would fall off to sleep, the present rolling out of my hand unopened until Fin returned again with the next. My little pile of squirrel's nuts grew, but I could not rouse myself for long enough to open them. My Grandfather was like this not long before he passed away, he would disappear in the midst of conversation into a benevolent sleep, one hand raised as if to say, 'now just hang on a moment' and then he would wake minutes later, to continue as if not a moment had passed or just to smile broadly and make a simple joke.

And so the day passed in fragments that loomed at me through the fog, floating up to surface like excerpts of a play. Channel hopping in and out of consciousness with the plish, plash of a Lego star ship being created as Nick and Fin worked into the dusk together. Snatching a rare moment of unprescribed time that existed for them alone to fill. The Lego fell into the box and small hands joined big hands to swim through it looking for the right piece, swish swish, swish swish.

There was no fancy Christmas meal; no crackers pulled, no post prandial brandy, no flaming pudding. And yet in the moments I was part of that Christmas day, my heart felt full and light and I blessed the universe for sending me my beautiful family and warm house. I was even grateful to the fateful timing of my flu, for helping me remember that Christmas is about giving thanks for the wonder already present in every part of my life and not about what I chose to put under the Christmas tree on one day of the year.