Just as we were thinking about making supper, headlights slowed, then pulled in our driveway. We thought it was our neighbor to the east who sometimes stops to chat with Bruce, but no it was Craig, our neighbor to the west, who brought us the brush hog. We stepped out on the porch to greet him.
“How would you like a load of ag lime? This fella here broke down in my yard. They just got the truck fixed and he asked what to do with the load. His boss said give it to the farmer. I told him I know just the person. Can he bring it to you?”
Of course. (Yippee.)
I looked up the road and saw the lights of his tractor trailer parked by the Johnson Farm. My heart leapt up because I had just been talking with my trainer about how I wanted a place to work my ponies when the weather was warm enough but the ground saturated, or when the hay was coming in. I had waited two years for this, weighing and measuring whether I wanted to turn the grass paddock into a dry lot. (I have to keep the mares separate because they were fighting to injury a few years back.) When the summer heated up, fungus on the clover bloomed and Morgen started drooling. She colicked. So we locked her in the narrow slice of paddock in front of the barn and kept her there until now. This is a mare for whom cantering is a native gait, who likes to canter between paddocks, who likes to buck and play.
It wasn’t long before he pulled into the driveway and dumped our load in front of the paddock. We made arrangements for two more loads, that he could fit in around hauling his remaining loads to Big Rock.
It was like Christmas that day, getting the ag lime as an extra gift from our kindly neighbor, and shopping all day for equipment for my horse and lunch out with new friends from the barn where I ride. Tessie got a new browband, saddle pad and reins. I got half chaps and paddock boots, a get up that resembles show boots but cheaper, useable for everyday, and Morgen got a new cavesson (noseband). Our trainer sold me a girth and Mattes pad for Morgen as well. I felt rich, happy, blessed.
I know I’m not supposed to be materialistic, not supposed to like things so much. I’m supposed to give away my stuff per Jesus’ comments to the rich young ruler, who walked away sad because he was very rich. Slowly I’ve been trying to take things out of my house because I am getting to that age where I’m not too far from a smaller home. But I love presents–giving and receiving them.
Not only do I celebrate Jesus’ enormous gift to us with this present business, but also I think about my parents who poured their love into Christmas day. My mother put thought into the gifts she bought like a glass blown panther to commemorate my brother’s Mazda that he called The Pink Panther or the careful repair of his Martin guitar. She bought me a doctor’s buggy when I was thinking about training my horse to drive. It’s the thought, the gift I can hold in my hand and remember, that drives some of my love for stuff. There is a sacramental nature to gifts, this holding in one’s hand, something given out of love.
But I’m not sure my parents did me any favors because I am set up for ache as an adult, when most people, including my husband, say presents aren’t a big deal. My mother’s relations have said how painful it was to see the pile of gifts for my brother and I, when they couldn’t afford so much for their children.
The next day Bruce brought out the tractor and dug into the pile of ag lime hauling it into the paddock. Compared to that pile our tractor looked like a child’s toy. He drove the bucket into the biting cold and dumped it, time and time again. I took Morgen to my trainer to fit her bridle and to see if my saddle fit. I wanted my trainer to meet her because I hope to take her for training this spring.
Happiness can be a frail thing. By the third day out I woke up to a Personal Message from a dear friend saying her husband had just died, and I sobbed so hard Bruce ran downstairs thinking Booker was gone. This is not my grief, I know, but something about a beloved husband’s dying, only three years older than Bruce and I, cut through my quiet. We don’t have much time. No not at all. None of us do, not even the babies.
I take an odd comfort from that other Christmas story in Revelation where Mary is dressed in the sun, her feet resting on the moon with a crown of stars. When she gave birth to Jesus, a dragon stood in front of her, ready to devour him. She fled into the desert and the baby was snatched up to God. There was war in heaven. “The great dragon was hurled down–that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say, ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ for the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before God day and night, has been hurled down'” (Rev. 12: 9 NIV).
I think about this and Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, how this story played out on earth, and how so many people, including myself, hurt, deeply hurt at Christmas. The push for family– commercials featuring a happy couple walking up to their parents’ door, the hugs, the rush of happy tears–and the push for gifts pushes at the uneasy places in my marriage because my husband and I can never replicate the memories I hold from my parents or his. Until we moved to the country and found neighbors who welcomed us to their Christmas table, Christmas day has pushed at my ache for my parents and brother. I’d wait for someone from home to call. Sometimes the sobs came.
But there is comfort in this clear eyed stare at the goodness and evil that comes with Christmas, and hope that the accuser, the one who whispers in our ear, how we suck, we suck, we are monsters, has been hurled down, has been beat, though furious, because his time is short. There is the promise that we will overcome “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”
The story goes on to say the dragon chased the woman but she was given wings like an eagle and the earth helped her by swallowing the water the dragon puked hoping to drown her. Yes it’s apocalyptic images but they shimmer like a mirage, dimly reflecting spiritual truths.
Bruce pretty much got the ag lime spread on the paddock. It’s palomino colored and smooth, cupping some puddles from the hard rain we had today, the day before winter solstice. It was his labor of love, despite the tire spun off the tractor wheel, despite the cold seeping deep as his bones, and despite the time it took, when there were other things he’d rather be doing.