It's Christmas Eve, and I write this from the airport, awaiting a connection to Los Angeles. Security was a breeze; the restaurant is deserted.
Last night, my family sat around the live-edge walnut table my Dad and brother made by hand, and read our Christmas letters aloud to each other.
It was just another year of a twenty-year tradition -- except this time, there were two NEW faces at the table; and we all agreed to do it one day early, so that Bruce and I could fly out today to meet his brand-new nephew.
As one family expands, and others around the world come together for the holidays...
It's impossible not to think of those who can't be with us.
The parents and grandparents who have left the earth; the loved ones who have passed or are nearing their final days. For some, this time of year evokes darker, more complex feelings than simply joy and celebration.
I know there will come a day when someone will be missing from their spot at that walnut table. It's not something I like to think about, because it sends me into a pre-emptive tailspin of mourning. But it's inevitable.
And when that day comes... I will think back to moments like this one:
"Close your eyes. Listen to the waves crashing."
I am standing on a black sand beach in a secluded cove surrounded by cliffs, my face to the churning Pacific ocean, listening to my Dad's voice.
"Feel the breeze on your face, on your skin. Smell the salt in the air. Breathe.”
He is standing next to me, alongside my sister and boyfriend. We have just finished breakfast and broken down camp. Our backpacks sit ready and waiting in the meadow behind us, where we slept in tents last night, surrounded by fields of white and purple wildflowers.
We are hiking the southern half of the Lost Coast, and we have miles to make today.
We could have hit the trail ten minutes ago.
But instead, my Dad stopped us as we were shouldering our packs, and motioned for us to follow him here, to the beach.
Which is strange, because if there's one thing my Dad likes at all times, it's efficiency.
Whenever we go hiking or exploring or adventuring, he likes to have a plan. He likes to know the schedule; he likes to execute on time; and if we can get the plan executed a few minutes AHEAD of schedule, well, then he isdelighted.
But here we are this morning, not moving, on pause; listening to the waves crash, feeling the cold whip of the wind on our cheeks; breathing.
"Now, open your eyes. Take in all of what you see. Breathe it into your body."
It is as though we are in a dream, standing shoulder to shoulder on a distant shore in the brisk morning air.
Dad looks around at us with bright eyes and smiles.
"In the future, wherever life takes you -- you can always come back here."
This is a moment that will live forever in my heart, as long as I'm alive.
If the holiday season brings up sadness or loss for you...
If you find yourself missing someone very special, or wishing you could exchange just one more gift with them...
I invite you to think back to those gifts they gave you that transcend time and space; the ones that continue to follow and shape you, wherever you go.