The extent of my holiday decorating for the last several years was to put new batteries in the little pack for the lights on my Charlie Brown Christmas tree, thinking maybe I would turn on the miniature colored lights more often than just when I Skyped with my little Canadians or when my kids stopped by. While the batteries were powerful enough to light up my scrawny little Charlie Brown tree, they weren't powerful enough to eliminate my lack of holiday spirit. Other than the times I mentioned, the tiny tree with the scraggly limbs remained dark for most of the season. My go-to answer when people asked me why I stopped decorating for the holidays made perfect sense to me ... no kids living at home anymore equaled no reason to deck the halls or jingle the bells. That standard answer I gave regarding the question about my lack of decorations was at least partially true ... it seemed like a waste of time to me to decorate when there was no one around except the dogs and me to see it. The more comprehensive truth, however, is that the old wolf of depression who lives outside my window really likes to ramp up his game around the holidays, scratching and clawing and snarling and growling and trying his best to shatter the thin pane of glass that separates us so that he can eat me alive.
When I moved from my house into an apartment last year, I set a goal for myself that I would do an extensive cleaning of my new little place at least once per month. My loose definition of extensive cleaning is dusting every piece of furniture, Windexing the mirrors and windows, scrubbing the bathrooms, mopping the floors, buffing up all the kitchen appliances, cleaning the air ducts, double-vacuuming the carpet and wiping down the walls, which only takes me a couple of hours to accomplish in my small living area. I haven't been able to find the cord to my CD player since I moved from the house to the apartment, so I've been forced to learn how to use Spotify on my smart TV if I want to listen to music while I'm cleaning. I discovered a long time ago that I can't watch television and clean at the same time ... suffice it to say that when I try to do so, I end up doing far more watching than I do cleaning. I'm trying to establish the habit of not even looking at what's on the screen when I turn on the TV on cleaning days, but sometimes I slip up, steal a glance and hope that whatever's on doesn't reel me in and thwart my cleaning plans.
I've only seen the movie "Big Miracle" two times in my life ... the first time was at Cinemark Theater on Saturday, February 4, 2012 at 11:15 a.m., and the second was at my apartment on Sunday, November 25, 2017 at 9:45 a.m. Before you start thinking I have Sheldon Cooper blood flowing through my veins (though I will readily admit to sharing several similar personality traits with the greatly beloved genius), I assure you that this particular movie is the only one I've ever seen for which I remember those very specific details. I'm certain you're wondering why in the world a not so incredibly great movie about whales has earned such an illustrious place of honor within my mind. Explaining the deep significance of the movie "Big Miracle" is a no-brainer for me ... it's the movie a friend and her family took me to see after they unknowingly interrupted me just a few minutes before I intended to end my life. The film was based on a true story from 1998 ... a story of three gray whales that were trapped under the ice in Barrow, Alaska, and the people who worked together to save them.
I cried my eyes out sitting in the theater on that Saturday morning five years ago as I watched "Big Miracle." I cried because I was in the same place the whales were ... alone in the dark and cold waters of depression ... trapped under the ice with no way out to the open water ... each breath getting harder and harder to take. I'll never forget what my friend said to me when she dropped me off at my house after the movie. She looked deeply into my eyes and said, "I know you feel like you're drowning and that you can't go on. You need to keep swimming, Terrie ... there are so many people cutting holes in the ice for you. You have to keep swimming, friend ... don't give up ... we'll keep cutting the holes and you have to keep swimming." I cried my eyes out sitting on my couch when I watched the film for the second time a couple of weeks ago, too ... maybe even harder than I cried the first time I saw it. I cried because I know how differently things could have turned out ... I know how easily things could have gone the other way ... I know how cold the waters can be ... I know how thick the ice can become ... I know how very, very, very hard it can be to breathe.
A couple of days ago I read an article about some of the key people who were involved in guiding the whales to safety, and I quickly noticed a common theme that ran through their stories. Each person who was interviewed said that his or her encounter with the trapped whales was a life-changing one for them. That the experience with the whales made them more aware of how fleeting life can be, for both animals and humans alike. That they now take a greater interest in the needs of others. That they are more grateful for those they are blessed to share their lives with. That they know what it is to be part of something bigger than themselves. That something seemingly as small as cutting holes in the ice can be the difference between life and death.
I'm sure by now you're wondering why I titled tonight's post "The Angel and the Whales" since I've yet to write a word about an angel. Or you're wondering why in the heck this post is so flipping long and why I don't just get done already. I'm hoping you'll forgive me for the lengthiness of my composition this evening if for no other reason than I don't write very often anymore. But back to the angel ... my oldest son Matt made a special angel as a school project when he was in kindergarten, which was, oh, 28 or so years ago. The angel is made of different types of uncooked pasta noodles covered with gold spray paint and has a string attached to the top so that it can be hung on a Christmas tree. It didn't take long for the little angel to be dubbed "the macaroni angel" by my children, and believe it or not, the three of them fought every Christmas for years over who got to hang the tiny pasta creation on the tree. It's amazing the little old noodle gal has managed to survive all these years, but she has.
I wish I could end my post tonight by telling you that I've never again felt the way I did on that Saturday five years ago, but I can't. I can tell you this, though ... just like the tiny macaroni angel, I've somehow managed to survive. The truth is that there's still something inside of me that keeps me from throwing in the towel and calling it done even on my darkest of days. Though I can't tell you it's true every day, it's true on this day and on others as well ... I'm glad I'm still here. Here to love my children and grandchildren. Here to offer encouragement and prayers during this tough time in the lives of several of my extended family members. Here to take care of my little wiener pal Ollie. Here to bake cookies and make fudge for my neighbors. Here to help load the elderly woman's groceries into her car at the store today. Here to appreciate people who care, people who keep their promises, people who stay no matter how cold the water or how thick the ice. Here to see my little apartment-sized Christmas tree ... the little macaroni angel sitting front and center, the wrapped packages resting beneath, the lights shining brightly on each branch.
Remember the macaroni angels in your life, and tell them how thankful you are that they've survived and how much they matter to you. See the whales around you who are trapped beneath the ice, and cut holes to help them keep swimming. I've been reminded too many times this year of how life as we know it can change in the blink of an eye and how truly short it can be. Don't take one moment for granted, not one single solitary moment. My prayer for you during this holiday season and beyond is that you be good to each other ... that you be kind ... that you be caring ... that you love without measure. Whether at the end of your day or the end of your journey, that's what makes life worth living, friends ... the love we have for each other ... that's what makes life truly worth living.