Some startled neighbors who were out walking or at their window yesterday asked why we were carrying a fully-decorated Christmas tree up our steep street in Sausalito. Upon hearing our story, Martin, Jim, Ingrid, Julia and Jacob, joined us, carefully picking up the fallen angel (haven’t we all fallen at some point?), wise man and blue bird ornaments along the way.
The backstory began the previous evening when walking along the Sausalito waterfront with my friends visiting from Dublin and Austin. Looking over across Richardson Bay they saw the light shining on top of the hill on Angel Island. I told them what a local had told me, that a Sausalitan paid for the light each Christmas in memory of her spouse, a story I later learned was not true. That sparked a conversation about our loved ones, now gone, that we’d honor with a Christmas light.
In that spirit, the next morning we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to buy a Christmas tree from the resourceful, recovering folks at Delancey Street. Jim spoke of his best friend, killed by a drunk driver in Austin, three weeks after returning from Iraq. Ingrid, whose mother had disappeared when she was ten, described how her deceased, Iranian stepmother made them a Swedish meal each Christmas because that was a family tradition that Ingrid shared with her father. My fiancé, who was accidentally killed in Bogota six years ago, used to gather his friends to lead us in singing carols on Christmas Eve. While my friends knew each other rather well, telling these specific stories was a way of bearing comforting witness for each other.
Back home I retrieved my collection of ornaments from the attic. We decided to be top-of-Angel Island-lights for each other. As each of us placed an ornament on the tree, we took turns recalling a time when we felt honored or comforted by another of us. Soon the blue spruce tree was graced with ornaments that held more personal meaning for us.
We were just about to start making dinner when my neighbor, Hans, from up the hill called to invite us to join him for homemade, gingered yam soup. For the ten years I’ve known them, his wife made that soup, a family tradition, and invited me, and three others in Sausalito up for early holiday supper. They always had a Christmas tree in the front window. Velda, his wife, passed away this March. Earlier, I’d noticed that he’d not gotten a tree this year. Their children did not visit much.
You probably guessed where this story is heading. I wish I could say it was my idea, but… see the rest of the story at my “Connected and Quotable” column at Forbes.