Limited Taxation
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Barbara's Column
December 2001 #3

Hold fast those you love,
lest they be celebrating elsewhere next year

by Barbara Anderson

The Salem Evening News
Monday, December 24, 2001

Ah friends, dear friends, as years go on and heads get grey, how fast the guests do go!

Touch hands, touch hands, with those that stay.

Strong hands to weak, old hands to young around the Christmas board, touch hands.

The false forget, the foe forgive, for every guest will go and every fire burn low and cabin empty stand.

Forget, forgive, for who may say that Christmas day may ever come to host or guest again.

Touch hands!

This was written by someone named Murray. I didn't bother writing his or her first name onto the Dec. 25 page of my 1973 Khalil Gibran diary, a gift from my son the year before.

There are two full diaries of favorite poems and quotes now, and another half-filled. If I'd consistently noted authors, I could probably publish "Barbara's Little Red Book of Simple Guidance" for the personal growth section of the bookstores. Then you could buy it today for that last-minute gift!

Maybe you could buy your loved ones a blank book of their own. For as we travel our lives, we occasionally read little inspirational things that we should jot down somewhere, in case they are needed to get us through a more trying day.

I'm sure the writer wasn't referring to the forgiveness of terrorists or other evil doers; but rather the familiar foe who drives us crazy whenever everyone gets together, or the relative who said something hurtful 20 years ago.

In the end, it is not only genes or longstanding relationships that connect us, but the mutual certainty of death.

In 1988 it was my father who was no longer around the Christmas board. In 1995, my sister-in-law, her mother and her daughter, all gone in one year! And this year, my mother left just in time to spend the holidays with dad and the four sisters who left before her.

If I'd been on the wrong airplane, or my surgery hadn't been successful, I could be there too. And nice as a reunion would be, I'd just as soon be here in my cabin, opening cards and eating the fudge my friend, Anne, made me last week when I went home to say good-bye to mother.

I like to think the streets of heaven are paved with fudge, but I'm not sure. For those readers who may not even be sure that there's a heaven, never mind one that looks like Candyland, here is my Christmas gift to you:

Once upon a time, during the existential phase between my Catholic childhood and the present, I didn't think there was an afterlife. So when I saw my father three days after he died, I was surprised.

My son and I had stopped by the cemetery before returning to Massachusetts, and were noting that from the graveside you could see across the meadows and forest to the site of his beloved camp with the horseshoe pit. I wasn't praying, mourning or wishing, just discussing the view.

Suddenly, over my son's shoulder, I saw my father passing by, as if on the caboose platform of a train, going backwards. He waved in the funny backward foreign way he used to wave from his chair when I left the house, and said "Bye Bon" -- his nickname for me. He looked very excited about the trip.

I'm sure it wasn't deliberate. If he had planned a ghostly appearance it would have been for my son, his favorite. It was just that my sometimes psychic self was tuned in to the right place and looking in the right direction as he went past.

In my family's church, it's taught that every soul stays around for three days after death before going on to the next life. I didn't believe that and wasn't looking for "a sign." But there it was; and now, "doubting Thomas" that I am, having seen it with my own eyes, I'm a believer.

Whether you are a believer or not, if there are missing guests in your cabin this season, it may be nice to imagine them at another table somewhere, with other departed souls you have loved. And if heaven fits my expectations, they'll have fudge as well as pies and fruitcake for dessert!

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem Evening News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

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