In the late afternoons and into the early evenings as the sun lowers and the sky darkens, my children move towards our lighted Christmas tree. They sit as close to it as they possibly can, with their laptops and their iPods and their earphones; they are, after all, 17 and 20. They are constantly plugged into the world with its breathtaking beauty and unspeakable horror. My daughter looks up from her laptop and says that it is time for gun control after the Newtown tragedy. Then she tells me that our tree is really pretty. My son takes his earphones off and asks me if I have heard the news. I say yes and then he tells me that he does not want to watch it on TV and he puts his earphones back on and listens to the soaring of his music. He knows what he cannot bear to see. They are, both of them, on the cusp of adulthood, swimming upstream, doing their best to understand that both light and dark inhabit our world.
Our tree is full of angels. I have collected them over the years. There is one made out of newly picked cotton, another forged out of metal, one that is hand carved from oak. There are angels everywhere, in different shapes and sizes, all of them made from different materials. The tree is fully alive. It drinks so much water that we have to refill the stand each morning.
I argued against putting up a live tree this year. We've had one for many years and I didn't feel like dragging the ornaments out of the attic. Here at midlife, I become weary and I crave change. "The kids are older," I said. "Let's just go with a nice poinsettia perched in the corner." But my kids knew better. They encouraged me to buy a live tree.
Our children, all children who are moving into adulthood, are brave. They take in horrific news, and like us, they try to cope with grief and to seek solutions. They are aware of the world that awaits them as adults and yet they keep moving towards light. Here at midlife, they bring me comfort and give me hope.