Lulu appeared on my front porch one afternoon while I was at work. She planted herself in an orange bucket I’d left out there and leaned her body against the part of the wall that juts out from beside my door. I walked over to her and began to inspect. I tugged on her long needles and stood her up straight and wrapped my hand around her trunk. I’ve never had a Christmas tree of my own, and I felt a bit like I did as a 5th grader getting an aquarium and my first fish—excited about the potential and nervous about doing everything just right. But life is short and for some reason I felt excited about the idea of a Christmas tree this year, so I lifted Lulu by the bucket and her middle, and brought someone new into my home.
I often times find the second half of November through the end of the year to be a bit depressing. Some of the more popular celebrations don’t have any significance or meaning to me, and my life is one distinctly void of tradition. I know that not everyone is surrounded by family and friends and joy, but what I know intellectually doesn’t control some of the emotions that still arise surrounding some of what I regret about my life thus far. However, I think I have found meaning for the holiday season this year; I am celebrating openness.
I believe I’m in a very small minority when I say that reaching the winter solstice always causes me a twinge of sadness. Yes, I do miss the sunlight and warmth right along with everyone else, but I also cling to the now decreasing hours of darkness. Nighttime invigorates me in the way that it leaves me one step removed from reality. In the daylight, we can see everything around us, or at least we tend to think we can. Even though I can’t see it any longer, I still associate light with a stable physical world that I can reach out and touch. In the dark though, there is so much left to fill in-between what little we know for sure. The space allows the unpredictable to enter. When I am fortunate enough to encounter a visitor I wouldn’t have met in the daylight, I tend to let go and follow where it leads. In the summer time, I have to wait until late for the witching hours to begin, whereas these are the last couple weeks before I start to notice the lengthening days. It is a season when I spend more time open to the things the day distracts me from.
In this season, I’m learning to be open to slowness. Since Zen and the Art of Fill-in-the-Blank has been a successful approach to a number of topics, perhaps I will write my own version—Zen and the Art of Thermostat Installation. My journey started about eight weeks ago, when I decided that it would be really nice to be able to program my thermostat on my own, without having to recruit someone sighted to do it for me. I selected a thermostat with good reviews in the blind accessible category and ordered it from Amazon. I wanted to know how to install the thermostat on my own, so I had a friend, Gerry Leary, help me out. I laugh now at the quick installation card that came in the box, starting with the statement that, “Installation should take about 30 minutes.” I went through a process of exploration and discovery that took me about six or seven weeks in which I learned about the connection between the thermostat and the furnace and different kinds of furnaces and how thermostats receive power. I learned that if something says it needs 24 volts, 12 volts will not suffice. I spent hours trying to get copper wires into a variety of connections, and I learned that both wires don’t actually have to go into that tiny hole, as long as one goes in there and the second one is attached, it will work. I also learned that it’s okay to twist the hot and neutral wires together with your fingers, even though other people cringe and say you really shouldn’t do that. And I learned how to know what I was doing, while still asking for help from friends like Silke Koester, Dan Zolnikov, and my mother—even though she really hates to do that sort of thing. My thermostat is now up and running, and if you ever want to change my thermostat from afar, I’m happy to let you push the little buttons on the app. Just guessing, I would say that I put well over 24 hours into that whole installation process, actually probably closer to 30 hours. I also know that I could have paid someone who knew what they were doing to have it done in a couple hours, and you could probably calculate it out to make much more sense to pay someone else from a cost/benefit perspective. But when my back muscles were cramping after having spent an hour trying to get that one wire into the right spot, I could acknowledge that the situation would be different if I were a different person, then shrug and keep going. I know that I live in a world where your worth comes partially from how busy you are. I know that many people are going to look down on me when I say that I spent my day trying to better understand what an external transformer does and how it does it, and I shrug. This is who I am and what I am, and I accept it. I am open to what might come when I waste my time. I’m also ready to dispense advice on thermostats to anyone who might want it.
Lulu now stands quietly, but proudly in the corner of my living room. I spread the towel that’s beneath her over to the heat register to keep her from drying out any sooner than necessary. I wound a colorful strand of lights around her, nesting them into each bough. As I contemplated how I might make a star to go at the very top, it occurred to me that Lulu really wanted a nice warm hat to protect her soft needles. And once she had her hat, the rest came together, I knew there was a reason to hang onto all those mismatched socks for all these years, and now they have a purpose, adorning Lulu. Even though Lulu is still strong and healthy, I know that this collection of lights and sap and needles and wool will not last forever, so I’ve been contemplating her next stage in life. I searched for some ideas, and there are many options. My favorite one was in the Farmer’s Almanac, to attach all kinds of delicious bird treats such as cranberries and peanut butter-covered pinecones. I love the idea of Lulu standing out in the new garden, holding up her branches to the birds who stay here over the winter. Of course, there is part of me that wonders about other critters, such as rats and raccoons. I’m going to guess that they would enjoy bird food quite thoroughly, and it seems like the Farmer’s Almanac people would be aware of that. But then again, if I’m working on being open, maybe Lulu could go to this next stage in her life as a rodent/bird feeder; they all get hungry. Well, I can consider the options anyway. As I think about how much Lulu has done for me since showing up at my front door, I’m grateful I felt open to her coming into my life. I would not have chosen to have this prolonged adventure with a thermostat, but I’m proud of having done it now. I also never would have thought to get a Christmas tree if Catherine Greenwald and her partner hadn’t opened up their home and the surrounding woods to friends who want a bit of greenery in their lives over the holidays, but Lulu has brought me more joy and fun than I ever would have guessed. I have a friend who selects a word at the beginning of each year, and she tries to live with more of whatever the word is until it’s time to select a new one. For 2018, I’m going to choose “open.” Instead of focusing on what I want to have happen, I’m going to focus on being open to whatever does happen. If anyone feels the need to remind me of this in the next 12 months, I give you permission.