The Bleak Midwinter
Top 10 Favorite Albums of 2007

For Emily, Whenever She May Find Him (A Christmas Story)

woman spirit What a dream Emily had.  She was wandering the deserted streets around Times Square, strangely dark , the marquees blackened, the streets empty of the ubiquitous yellow cabs and traffic, an eerie silence ruling the night.  She was walking quickly, as if pursued, her heels echoing on the pavement, ringing off the shuttered shops and empty alleyways.  She began to run, sensing a dark presence behind her, a foreboding sensation.  Up 7th, right on 51st, on to Rockefeller Center.  Turning the corner at 5th, she saw it: the tree, brightly decorated, shining in the darkness, the only brightness in an otherwise starlit but dark city.  At the bottom of the tree stood a man, his hand outstretched and beckoning, and though she could not hear it, she knew what he was saying.  Come.  Just come.  And she wanted to come, even though she was afraid.  She wanted to, but she could not move.

When she awoke, she found herself alone, the bedcovers twisted around her as if she had been wrestling someone the whole night.  He had gone, sometime in the night.  But it didn't matter, she said to herself.  None of them matter.  Her clothes lay crumpled on the floor where, in some passion now a distant memory, she had dropped them.  Stepping over them, she walked to the bathroom, looking in the mirror as she did every morning, staring into her green eyes as if seeking something there.  She ran her hand through her hair, pushing it back from her face.  She was aging, and she knew it, little fault lines creeping outward from the corners of her eyes, her neck showing the first wrinkles and excess skin.  It doesn't matter, she thought.  I'm healthy, I have a good job, and I'm smart.  I'll be OK.

One cup of coffee later, she sat on the sofa in her living room considering how to spend her day.  Ashley was on a cruise with her boyfriend in the Caribbean.  Kara was with her family in Connecticut. And that about exhausted her list of friends.  It was Christmas Eve, and she was alone.  She picked up the three Christmas cards she had received --- one from her stockbroker, thick and expensive, with an innocuous happy holidays greeting and a single machine-inscribed signature; another from a client, a local restaurant corporation she had saved from bankruptcy; and the last nothing more than a postcard, a simple manger scene with a handwritten "God bless you" scrawled across the back, signed by the doorman, Jake.

And with that, Emily began to sob, quietly at first, and then, like something deep came unhinged, loudly, because she could, because she was alone and no one could hear her.  She wept for all the lovers come and gone, for the empty praise of co-workers, for the purposelessness of work for nothing more than nice things --- a new dress, weekend in the Hamptons --- and for the abiding sense that nothing really mattered, nothing at all. 

She couldn't remember a time when she had last wept.  Perhaps it was when her father had died, when her mother failed to even show for her own husband's funeral.  Sometimes she felt a sense of despair so overwhelming that she wanted to cry, but couldn't.  Like at the crosswalk at 39th and Broadway, the sign broadcasting "walk" and her mind saying "why." Or sometimes when she'd awake in the night, darkness settled around her, and she'd remember ice skating with her Dad, or just driving listening to his voice, and she missed him.  But she didn't cry.

Remembering, she went to the closet, dragged a box from the corner, and began tossing books out of it onto the floor, old fluff novels, lawbooks, and bar journals, until she found it --- a small New Testament.  She opened the front jacket to the inscription: "To Emily, From Dad, Christmas 1987." Since her Dad died in 1992, she had not looked at the Bible, having pitched it in the bottom of her closet, and yet she carried it with her wherever she lived --- to law school, to her clerkship in Albany, and then on her job for the firm here in New York.

She opened it to Psalms, wiping her face on her sleeve and pushing her hair out of her eyes, her eyes falling to several verses in Psalm 102, underlined in the shaking highlights  of her father's hand: "For my days vanish like smoke. . . . My heart is blighted. . . . I lie awake; I have become like a bird alone on a roof."  Like a bird alone.  And Emily wept some more, remembering how alone she had felt after her Dad died, how abandoned, and how utterly alone she felt at this moment.

She dressed quickly, threw on her coat, stuffing the Bible in her pocket.  She took the elevator to the lobby, walking quickly by Jake, her eyes red and puffy from her crying.

He caught her arm.  "Ms. Parker, are you alright?"

"Yes, yes.  I'm fine, thank you, Jake."

"How are you spending Christmas?"

"I don't have any plans."

"Then you need to come to our home.  My wife and kids would enjoy having you."

Emily was about to say she couldn't, that she needed to work, that she might take a trip, anything not to admit that she would be alone.

"I couldn't impose."

"Emily, come.  Just come."

"I guess I could." 

And in that moment, Emily felt a little less alone, and a little less angry.  She didn't know if that was blessing, or if God did in fact bless, or if there was a God, but she conceded the possibility of that kindness, of grace itself, of Someone that walked the frosted world in lamplight, His touch softer than rain, of Someone that would be there when she awoke with grateful tears, of One who could hold all her sorrows.

She walked on, past brightly lit shop displays, streets teeming with shoppers, and like a dream she heard music and cathedral bells and a voice that echoed "Come."  Just come. 

[Emily is a composite of a woman dreamed of by the narrator in Paul Simon's song, "For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, which appeared on the 1966 album by Simon and Garfunkel entitled Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme, and a young woman I saw on the sidewalk this Christmas Eve who was weeping while the man walking with her offered her no comfort.  Emily had a different dream than Simon's narrator, and a different life.  Some phrases are culled from the song, as if Emily's and the narrator's dream and life intersected. Listen to "For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her," below]