I mailed my Christmas cards first thing this morning, just in time to not feel like a slackard, as my mother used to say. The photocard shows the five of us around a table at Gibson’s last Christmas Eve, all smiling at our picture-taking waiter, all having good hair days. There is mellow light in the background, a green and white tablecloth, and peaceful feelings.
In the other corner of the card is a little snapshot of my in-laws cuddled up together on a boat in Cabo san Lucas, part of the last family vacation, for their 80th birthdays.
The Christmas letter tells that they both died this year, almost 5 months apart, after 88 years of life and 67 years together. It also tells that losing them causes the rest of us to concentrate on the things we are grateful for, as they always were.
As I pack away my Christmas card list, I note the red Xs that mark the labels of others we have lost over recent years – an aunt, a dear friend, the mother of a long-time friend, a long-ago co-worker. It is not just through death that we have lost them. People move away and don’t look back. Business contacts diminish. I revise the list every year, and every year it shrinks.
I used to send out 100 cards; now I am down to 76. Today, I issued myself a challenge. From now on, I tell myself, I will add new friends every year, so that my life, and my list, continues to expand. For now, it is a good plan.
Ultimately, in old age (the definition of which retreats farther and farther as we baby-boomers advance), it will be a vain hope, of course. Life shrinks when we get really old, pals die, and the older we get, the more invisible we become. Where will those new friends come from then?
People are not replaceable, especially my in-laws. But, I am going to fight to keep the slots on my list full from now on.