12 Epiphanies

xii. It has everything to with a spark of the divine.

All of the guests had left, except for Ishaan who slept on the love-seat. Kate wrapped a quilt around him, pulled on a winter coat and stocking cap, laced her running shoes, and headed out to the wharf.

It was that strange, quiet time between night and dawn.

What had it all been about?

What had she sought, all those days ago, when she’d called her mother to see about Christmas?

Had she sought this?

She had sought something more…

More than a vacation in Hawaii.

Certainly more than the media’s hype of buying things to fill that void.

She had sought to discover what it was that the void was, in actuality, and what might, actually, fill it.

And she had discovered that it could be filled with music.

With the longing for magic, and maybe with a bit of magic itself.

She had discovered that turning towards was easier than turning away.

She had discovered that other people, too, have this impulse towards generosity, towards sharing, towards coming together.

She had discovered that all are welcome.

All is welcome.

Every part of being human is part of Christmas, even the brokenness, even the hurt, even solitude, and even company. All are welcome, the man sent to kill as well as the girl who stashes her gifts and the old woman who forgets to take her meds.

Christmas embraces all-that-is.

Her phone chimed with a text from her boyfriend.

How was your Xmas, babe? Miss u. Next yr, I’ll be home. Data-crunching. Report writing. I’ll be back. And then we can have a real Xmas. Make it up to u.

That would be nice next year to have Christmas with her boyfriend. But it wouldn’t be better than this year.

If she were lucky, and she resolved to be, she’d store the twelve gifts she’d received, so she could open them throughout the year, so that she would never forget what she had learned, what she had felt.

We have Christmas because we need it. We need to discover what is real, what we truly are, what it means to be human, which includes all-that-is, which contains, inside of us, this great immensity of it all–the spark of divinity within a human form.

Christmas acknowledges the birth of that spark, and Kate resolved that night to keep it burning all the year.

<< Previous

Author’s note: How fun it is to collaborate with The Sims 4! I had a general idea of what I wanted to express in this series, which is my understanding of Christmas,that it can represent to us what it means to be human–all of it, including pain, loneliness, joy, bliss, and that at its core, our longing for Christmas magic is our longing to experience our true humanity: a corporeal form through which the spark of consciousness flows, and the alchemy of consciousness, in “turning towards,” as it infuses our being.

I wanted to tell this story, initially, through Kate’s encounters with the people she met. I’d planned that she’d meet vendors and, possibly, homeless people in the parks and squares of San Myshuno. But all the vendors were pre-mades! So, I just played the game to discover what Sims the game might generate. (Kate is the only CAS Sim–all the other characters, except for pre-made Geeta, were game-generated Sims.) The game created wonderful characters for this story, especially Bertha, who, for some reason, always showed up in bathrobe or night-gown and slippers. She had the dazed moodlet much of the time, too.

In my imagination, Geeta Rosoya was the neighbor who’d left the boxes of decorations, but Kate never met her until the Christmas party. You can imagine how excited I was when Geeta finally came to the door, with that neighbor-interaction of claiming that something smelled delicious!

Writing SimLit contains such an element of magic–it never ceases to astound me how, somehow, the game seems to pick up on and expand upon our intentions.

12 Epiphanies

vii. We have a need for magic.

Early one morning, when taking the recycling to the shoot, Kate found a stack of brightly colored storage boxes beside waist-height figurines of a nutcracker and snowman beneath the bulletin board in the foyer on her floor. A note on the board read:

Need some cheer? We were going to toss these out, but thought someone might have use for them! If you need some Christmas spirit, help yourself!

–Your neighbor

A big arrow drawn in wide red felt-tipped pen pointed at the storage boxes and statues.

Kate looked around, saw no one, and lugged three of the boxes, the nutcracker, and the snowman back into her apartment.

She found shiny glass ornaments that looked like they dated back to the 1940s, the kind her grandparents had on their tree when she was a little girl. She hadn’t decided if she’d set up a tree, but these would sparkle in a bowl.

A paper chain smelled like elementary school–that closed-in stuffiness of old paper, paste, and rubber cement. She felt flooded with contentedness. How funny that the memory of a smell could bring her back like that, to a feeling of home, of childhood? Of carols and excitement?

Untangling the string of lights, Kate felt her mind settle. Her mind was like this–little spots that lit up when fired, and connections that sometimes grew twisted and tangled. What strange things we are, people, with such complicated pathways within us! And how magical, really, when these pathways become clear, the synapses fire, and we light up from within!

We were made to do things! To create beauty! To appreciate! Even if Kate were the only one who would see the decorations in her home, the simple act of taking out each decoration from the box, appreciating it, loving it, and finding a place for it, that, in and of itself, was enough. That was joy. There was something magical in it.

She had a tiny corner of loneliness, still. But she also had much more. Candles sparkled from her table. The giant nutcracker watched, as if he would keep her from feeling too alone.

And she had time. She had weeks off from work. She had time to do the things that she couldn’t during the busy year. She could remember, for example. She could wonder at the flicker of light from the candles. She could feel gratitude towards her unknown neighbor for the kind gesture of sharing the boxes of decorations. She could speculate about whose hands, tiny or large, had glued together the strips of paper that made the chain hanging above her head.

It was still early in the day after she’d finished decorating. She sat at her keyboard, something she hadn’t done in many a month. She played Bach first, for every practice should begin with a prelude, and before she finished, her mind was completely untangled and lit up. Her fingers found their ways to carols, and the apartment filled with magic.

There is something that we need, to be fully human, and it has something to do with magic; and music, sparkles, and bright decorations sometimes fill that need.

<< Previous | Next >>

12 Epiphanies

vi. Bertha’s Story

In the evening, Kate found her neighbor Bertha, dressed in robe and slippers, wandering through the courtyard square outside their building.

“Are you all right, Bertha?” Kate asked.

“Oh, I suppose it depends on what you mean by ‘all right,'” replied Bertha. “I feel fine, really fine, dear, though I think something is not right with my meds. Either I took them, and I wasn’t supposed to, or I didn’t take them, and I was. But I feel fine. Just fine.”

“Maybe we should get you home,” Kate said. “Is there someone we can call?”

“Yes, yes,” Bertha replied. “My son. But there’s no rush, really. It’s just… it’s such a beautiful night. Let’s just stay out a little longer. Christmas spirit.”

Bertha began to sing.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
, hehe.”

She had a beautiful contralto. Kate watched her breathing, looked in her eyes. She supposed a few more minutes outside wouldn’t hurt. The cold air smelled like chocolate from the truffles factory down by the wharf, and the hissing of steam from the vents and clatter of the street car offered a rhythmic accompaniment to Bertha’s performance.

Though it’s been said,
Many times, many ways,
Merry Christmas
–did I ever tell you about Christmas of 1967?”

Certainly, she hadn’t, seeing as this was their first actual conversation, if you could call it that.

“I was young. I was a young nurse. It was my first year as a nurse. Oh! That year! That was the year that…” Bertha chuckled. “Well, my son came out that year. A doctor. Never married. That is, he never married me. He was already married. Mrs. Doctor Clive Barton. But oh, my. Clive. The times we had! Well, my son is proof of that. Living proof. What was I saying?”

“Christmas of 1967?”

“Oh, yes! Clive. 1967. Well, that was my first year as a nurse. So of course, I got the holiday shift. Christmas and New Year’s Eve, both. Do you know? It was, maybe, the most meaningful Christmas I had. Ever. People died. Two people, on my watch. Babies were born, and I was called in to help with one of them, we were that short-staffed, being Christmas, and all.”

“That must have been terrible,” Kate said.

“It was wonderful,” said Bertha. “It was Christmas, so it was already magical. I don’t know if you realize this, but there are some times when the veil tears, and you can see through to the other side. Christmas is one of those times. Death is another. And birth is a third. And to have all three on one night? Oh, and love! Let’s not forget love. Dr. Clive was on duty that night, if I remember correctly. Oh, there were no veils that night. Everything softened. It softens in death, you know. And in birth, too. And of course, Christmas. And love, goes without saying. So it all softened, and I was there, I was young, I was in the middle of it. Did you say you were going to take me home?”

“Yes, I’ll take you, Bertha,” Kate replied.

“And call my son?”

“And call your son.”

“And fix me tea?”

“Sure. I’ll fix you tea.”

“Good. I think I am done telling stories now.”

<< Previous | Next >>

12 Epiphanies

iii. Moments aren’t repeatable.

The next day, at the end of her jog along the wharf, Kate stopped at the square. Another musician played, and she anticipated experiencing transcendence again.

She’d woken up happy, hopeful that, even if painful emotions arose, she could face them, “turn towards” them, and then it would be OK. Maybe she would even get through the Christmas season and the week after, before New Years.

She drank deeply from her runner’s high, relishing the tickle of sweat thick with dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin, down the small of her back. She was primed for a repeat of yesterday’s performance.

But this violinist presented an entirely different experience.

The tones his instrument produced were choked, strangled, stretched tight until they veered off the harmonic and into unsettling dissonance.

He didn’t turn towards; he turned away, and Kate had to pace the courtyard to try to find that sense of peace again.

They’d strung up lights in the courtyard–pink, this year, for some reason. Pink was the new white. When she’d been a child, her father brought her to the city for a performance of “The Nutcracker,” and afterwards, they came to this very courtyard where a 30-foot Douglas fir stood, strung with white lights and thousands and thousands of paper cranes.

“You see, Kate,” said her father, “it’s a peace tree. Even at Christmas, which to you is all about candy, fancy dances, sugar-plum trees, and gifts, we think of peace. That’s all it is, really, though to you, it is all about excitement.”

There was no tree in the courtyard this year, and the lights were pink, and the fallen leaves still dotted the cement, and the violinist grimaced and screeched out soured tunes, and it was nothing like it had been when she was a child, or even yesterday, when she had tasted the peace of the clouds, the wind, and all-that-is.

But maybe, it was OK, for it was a moment, too, even if a moment unlike others, and even if it was filled with noise. It was filled with something else, too, though Kate, on that morning, could not identify what that something-else was, a something that was both familiar and foreign simultaneously.

<< Previous | Next >>

12 Epiphanies

ii. It has something to do with music.

Kate looked out her window at the wide city, its streets lined with tenements, inside of which, she imagined, stood solitary people, like her, gazing out their windows onto the long avenues.

Maybe this was an entire city of solitaries, isolated in that way peculiar to the 21st Century.

If so, was it a city, then, without Christmas?

It appeared to be. The leaves were late-falling this year–climate change, no doubt–and they speckled the square with orange and red.

The loft-house on the bay, a converted cannery, usually decked with wreaths, lights, and a two-story tree before its tall windows, squatted nude on the corner without trace of festivity.

Kate watched the cars trail across the bridge and imagined families heading someplace more cheerful, someplace where Christmas resided, the mountains, maybe, though they had yet to receive winter snowfall.

She thought of her mom in Hawaii, her boyfriend in Antarctica, studying receding ice. All who remained, here in the city, were pretending or forlorn.

Down in the courtyard square, a musician played a violin, without an audience.

Kate wondered how the music sounded, with no one but the musician to hear. She could listen, at least, and then the tones traveling through the air would have something to receive them, something to quiver in return.

The violinist gave herself over to the carols she played, improvising complex variations and interweaving a dozen tunes into a single fabric of sound. She seemed not to care if she played for herself or for an audience, for it was clear she played for the music.

Kate didn’t feel alone, at that moment. She felt… she wasn’t sure what she felt. Something opened inside of her, and she felt her five-year grief for her father, her missing-her-boyfriend, her annoyance at her mom, and she felt… what was it? Happiness. Excitement. A little joy, even. She felt all of this, and all of it was carried on the interwoven carols, played by a solitary woman on a single violin.

“That was incredible,” she told the violinist when, at last, she set down her instrument and smiled quietly towards Kate.

“Do you have tears in your eyes?” the woman asked.

“I–yes,” said Kate. “I don’t know why. I’m just…. It’s so much.”

“Oh, was it the music, then?” the violinist asked. “It has that effect sometimes. I’m not sorry, though maybe I should be, but I’m not, for it’s what it’s for, after all.”

“How do you do it?” asked Kate, who had never been moved that profoundly by music before, and who still, even in that moment, felt bare in her vulnerability before the woman whose engagement had stirred her so.

“Through turning towards,” she said.

“Turning towards? Towards what?”

“Whatever is there,” replied the woman. “It hurts worse when you turn away, you see. But when you turn towards, everything softens. And that’s where music is made.”

She began to play again, and Kate looked up at the great sky, spotted with clouds that had blown in while they had talked, clouds that threatened rain on a wind that brought whispers of frost from the north. Even if it were late, winter would come, was on its way right then. And Kate turned towards it. The wind, the clouds, the spotted sun, the speckled leaves, the haunting notes of a lullaby for a child who grew into a man who knew only to turn towards, towards it all, the solitude, the companionship, the betrayal and forsakenness, and a man who had met this all with the open heart of being human. Kate closed her eyes to the music, and she wasn’t alone anymore.

<< Previous | Next >>

12 Epiphanies

i. Christmas isn’t about family.

Kate’s boyfriend was in Antarctica studying ice.  He couldn’t make it back in time for Christmas, and she couldn’t travel there.

That left her mom and her mom’s husband.

“Oh, honey,” Kate’s mom said when she called. “Steve and I are going to Hawaii for the holidays. I’m sure we’d love to have you come along. We could set up a cot on the lanai.”

That was all right. Kate didn’t want to impose on her mom and her mom’s husband’s time in paradise, and, besides, she didn’t really like her mom’s husband, or even, if she were completely honest, her mom when her mom was with her husband. Kate missed her dad.

It never felt like Christmas without him, and it had been five years since he’d died. That made five years with no real Christmases, and it felt like this would be another, bereft of the holiday spirit.

Kate had two full weeks off. The university where she worked as assistant to the dean of students closed over the holidays, and she, like all the other classified employees, received time-off with pay. It made everyone cheerful.

Except she didn’t know what she would do with herself.

City Life Network aired a “Zombie Holiday Marathon,” complete with a zombie boy-band singing Christmas carols. If Josh were there, they’d fix buttered popcorn and spend the night cracking jokes and singing along while pretending their arms fell off and their heads twerked.

It wasn’t funny without him.

Another network showed old crime movies that had nothing to do with Christmas.

Kate didn’t know what was better and what was worse: Pretend that Christmas didn’t exist or try to celebrate it anyway, without Josh, without her mom, without her dad.

At any rate, she had two weeks off, two weeks to do what she wanted.

In her dingy apartment, in a crowded city, alone. For Christmas.

Next >>

A Box of Christmas Books

homecoming01

In the winters of my childhood, the holiday season began when my mother carried down the box of Christmas stories. We had scores of picture books, hardbound anthologies, and magazine clippings. It’s funny–I don’t recall our ever having purchased any new Christmas books. As the youngest child, I grew into a holiday library already established. The hours after school or on a rainy Saturday afternoon in December were spent with these books, who became close seasonal friends. December evenings, I snuggled beside my dad on the couch as he read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. When I read the novel to myself now, I still hear it in my dad’s voice, though he left this earth 16 years ago this month.

This year, I thought it might be fun to share seasonal stories from this anthology. Maybe you’ve read them before; maybe they’re new to you! At any rate, I hope you enjoy a few yuletide stories from the past few years! And when you’re ready for more, please take a look at the index on the EA Sims Forums, where you can find past December entries from the Short Story Contest and submissions by other SimLit writers!

Happy reading! Solstice Greetings! And peace and love and the warmth of a good story to you!

Holiday Stories from CT’s SimLit Anthology

From December 2016

Coming Home

Something for Dr. J from Dr. Jasmine’s Casebook

From December 2015

One Night, from Dr. Jasmine’s Casebook

From December 2014

Plum Day Celebration – From A Houseful Of Hippies
Let’s Celebrate… What?
Don’t Know Much
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Plum!
Gnome Kickers and Home Wreckers
What Does Plum Stand For?
Fangirl
Black and White and Boring All Over
Departures/Arrivals
IncogNunley
Touching Ground and Scaling Heights
Friends Become Family
Another Day, Another Plum
Can you add plum to garden salad?
Sentimentality
Sweet Plums Roasting on an Open Fire
Green Plums and Plum Blossoms
That’s Plum, You Genius!
Dr. Jasmine’s Guest Book
Reflections on a Bowl of Plum

gift15