The girl with a fighting chance

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Dear Ren,

Happy Christmas Eve eve, sweet friend. As you said in your letter, December is now nearly over. I’m happy to send it on its way, even though I’m feeling somewhat lighter now than when I wrote you last.

Thank you so much for sharing a description of your holiday. In acknowledging your lack of holiday rituals with E. and that Christmas had been your ex’s domain, you further sealed this connection we have. I’m in the same leaky little row boat, LOL. No rituals yet in my post-divorce holidays. Not with my boys. Not with my man. Initially, I think, lack of ritual was rebellion against the over-the-top nature of holidays my ex put together. Now, even though owning no real traditions can feel a little clumsy, it can also be a gift to others to be flexible this time of year. I’m really open to “whatever,” and I’ll never pressure anyone to fit my idea of what the holiday should be.

Tomorrow, I’ll spend a little time with my boys in the afternoon and take them out for an early dinner. After that, my ex and his girlfriend will come over for a drink and we’ll all go to listen to the eldest play his trumpet at a Christmas Eve service before the boys go with them for the holiday. I’m going to spend the rest of the evening with books and wine and my new electric fire place. I’ll sleep in Christmas and have a slow, quiet morning. Coffee? Mimosas? A run? More reading? Not sure, but when I tire of the quiet (early afternoon, probably), I’ll rejoin the world. I’ll drive to my boyfriend’s house and have Christmas dinner with his family. I’ll unwrap gifts with my boys on the 26th at which time they’ll also return to things like sports practices and social activities with friends. We don’t get much downtime.

As much as I enjoyed the peek into Ren’s Norwegian Post-Divorce Christmas, I fell in love more with your description of winter in your part of Norway. Since I hate the bitter cold we have here (single digits — Fahrenheit — and sub-zero sometimes), I’m envious that you are close enough to the sea for it to moderate your temperatures. Like you, I also live in a farming heartland. This part of New York is a blend of urban, suburban and agricultural communities. I retreated to the city when I got separated and lived there three years but have since moved back to the ‘burbs/farming town where my boys go to school.

I took the photo above the week of the solstice. As you can see, the house has spectacular light even in the darkest season. It’s a late 1800’s farm house still surrounded on four sides by fields. Only one field, the one across the road, is still farmed. It had corn the first couple years we were here and soybeans this year. Up the road, there’s a buffalo farm. Around the bend, a small dairy. Many people keep horses and chickens. Beyond the back field, there’s a stream and a small forest. We regularly see deer and hear large packs of coyotes. The Hudson River is down the hill and just a few miles away.

As I’ve written here and on social media, we were treated recently to some migrating snow geese. But even when there’s nothing so obviously special to witness, there’s an ordinary beauty to take in. From our porch, off in the distance, we can see the Catskill Mountains, and we are outside the city enough that the stars at night are bright and clear. Even though I very much want to live on a lake or near the ocean, I am in the habit of letting this place delight me with its plainness. This community has a matter-of-factness to it, and I appreciate that. There is nothing “put-on” about it. It’s functional. It provides. It’s as important to bear witness to that as it is to anything else. It’s quiet here, too, quiet enough to hear the squirrels’ claws on the tree bark, a barge on the Hudson, bells from a distant church and, in the right season, crowds’ cheers from soccer fields the other side of the ravine.

Paying attention to all of it reminds me that I am of the world. It’s easy for me to live in my head. And while I enjoy retreating there — and need to sometimes because the world can feel too crowded — ultimately it untethers me in a bad way. I need to be in my body. Running helps with this, of course. It’s one reason I’ve been at it so long (I got started in January 2004).

I admire your discipline about it. I had it for a while, but it’s one of the things that 2016 stole from me. I’m working to get it back. Though I have all the winter gear for running outside and used to do so regularly, I’m choosing the treadmill at the gym right now. I’m trying to be gentle on my joints and muscles and advance slowly. Being a machine and everything, the treadmill is perfect for regulating the effort. I tend to push too hard out in the wild. 🙂

Earlier this week, when I was getting dressed for the gym (black tights, racer-back tank, bandana), I recognized myself in a way I hadn’t in a long time. There she is, I smiled. The girl with a fighting chance. We can miss ourselves, to borrow a phrase from your letter and your student, and I very much need the warrior part of me that I access via running.

With that, I’m off to the gym. And then I’ll stretch out into this days-long loose celebration of Christmas. There’ll be time soon enough to question where the poet part of me has gone. For now, I write letters, watch the geese and welcome the warrior home.

~ Carolee xo

This shot of that same tree/window shows the trees on the lawn, the field across the street and a small flock of snow geese.

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This letter is in reply to a letter from Ren Powell, which you can find here. If you would like to catch up on the entire correspondence, the letters are collected here in chronological order.

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