We gave each other things we don't need.
I always refuse to participate and explain that I don't believe in the exchange of gifts for a number of political and ethical reasons. And then no one listens to me and gives me expensive and thoughtful things I don't need but really do enjoy. This year I decided to play along as much as possible. I made my nieces and nephews little wool hats from old sweaters. The hats didn't really fit.
And I bought all the different families some moonshine from my neck of the woods. And I painted each family an oil painting.
I always feel weird giving paintings away. Because I feel like that “special” relative that everyone nods at and thanks, but is secretly a little afraid of. Everyone was very gracious. The day was really quite nice. And I thought a lot about belonging and exclusion. About family and connection. About power, continuity, and being human...
And then my dad had a guitar in his hands.
In another life he might have been a world renowned tenor. In this life he always provided the musical accompaniment to every family gathering and holiday in my life. Growing up, whenever I had a new girlfriend, I was always thrilled to bring them to meet my family for the holidays. Dad would sing and play old Mariachi songs and everyone would sing and dance along as best they could. My few memories of childhood center on these songs. On these gatherings.
A few months ago I was sure I would never hear him sing or play again. For many years, the tremors, pain, stiffness and emotional weight of Parkinson's had rendered him more and more quiet, more and more anxious, less apt to sing and play. And the complications from surgery a few months ago really made it appear that we would be lucky if he merely lived. I doubted I would ever see him walk and talk. No one imagined he would sing and play.
His voice shook. His body trembled, not entirely in time. And it was the most beautiful song I had ever heard in my life.
I hope I get to hear many more of them.