December 28th, 2018
Rob has a Christmas party every year at his house. It is the only party that I ever attend. This is probably because it is the only party to which I am ever invited. The party always has a German flavor to it. Rob has a strong German heritage, and he displays it proudly at Christmas ( known in Germany as “Weihnachten”). He provides copious amounts of German food, beer, and wine. The highlight of the evening is when he lights up the Feuerzangenbowle, which is a traditional German alcoholic drink produced by setting a rum-soaked sugarloaf on fire and then letting it drip into mulled wine. The blue flame from the sugarloaf is beautiful to watch, and it also seems like a good way to torch your house. The party qualifies as “eine Weihnachtsfeier”.
Despite Rob’s best efforts, the party seems slightly less festive with each passing year. I think about why that is. Most of the people attending the party are former members of the German Bible study group. We used to get together almost every Saturday for a decade. Now we usually only all meet at Rob’s house for Christmas. It is a paradox. Over the years, we have all changed, but we have also become stuck somehow. The trajectories of our lives have diverged, but our opinions on certain topics have remained the same. One reason that I stopped participating in the Bible study was that nobody seemed to listen any more, including me. There was no longer a true exchange of ideas. Each of us had fortified our positions, and we defended our respective viewpoints. This process has continued over the years. If anything, the hardening of attitudes has increased.
Simultaneously, our lives have radically changed. We’ve aged, and we’ve all had crises. In my case, my perspective on a number of things has been greatly altered. What was important ten years ago means nothing to me now, and things that seemed trivial back then are now vital to me. I am sure that others at the party have had similar experiences, but they have interpreted them in other ways. We have lost much of our common ground.
I’m not trying to say that the party was a dismal affair. It was still fun. I had a number of meaningful conversations with some very good people. One of those people was Rick.
I saw Rick just as Karin and I entered Rob’s house. He was sitting at the kitchen table, and he greeted me with a smile. I sat down next to him. Rick looked frail. For several years Rick has been fighting against Parkinson’s disease and, slowly but surely, he has been losing. Rick looked thinner and slower and weaker than I remembered. He was tired, but he was glad to see me. I was glad to see him.
A decade ago, Rick and I would argue, mostly about politics. Those arguments formed a barrier between us. Now those conflicts are gone. Both of us are much more aware of our mortality, and we just appreciate the time that we can have together. We are both grateful for the opportunity to meet at Rob’s house for Christmas, because we don’t know if we will meet again next year. I think that Rick and I feel closer, because we both know that time is short. We just need to be friends. Friendship is the only thing that still matters.
Rick and I agreed to meet for lunch soon. Maybe it won’t happen, but that is our intention. That intention made Rob’s party a real Christmas party.