Last January, driving through our neighborhood, we discovered a cache of poinsettias—still in their silver and gold Publix-foiled planters—by the curb for trash pickup. Generally considered a decorative yet dispensable winter burst of color, our neighbors were ready to cast them off after the holiday season. These poinsettias, even in such a state, had every right to live: a voiceless yearning that we heard.
Not too proud, we backed the car up and filled the trunk with the water-starved, emaciated plants—what a friend of mine lovingly calls, “wilties.” We brought them home, transplanted them, and heaped the same “attention” we give to our mums, roses, and impatiens upon them. For the past year, we have watched those formerly, nearly dead plants grow into trees with two-inch thick trunks and four foot diameters.
Now, they’re blushing bright red.
Last July, we encountered a litter of kittens, silent in their cages at a rescue. They reached out for salvation from imminent euthanasia. We went home and fetched the same carrier in which we, just days before, had brought our twenty-five year old feline best-bud to the vet’s for his final trip. We chose the one we could help; we welcomed a new kitten, blooming with nose-nuzzles, into our home.
This December, in the shadow of giant poinsettias, our kitten is taking on the Christmas-tree-destroying task that every kitten knows innately: re-strewn garland, tossed tinsel, and bouncing glass bulbs testify to the youth’s (re)decorative eye.
We stand at the confluence of vigor and color this holiday season—made beautiful by holiday plants and made alive by the salvation of a sweet-clawed tabby-mix—in which we celebrate birth, life, and salvation. We celebrate in the presence of ripening youth all around. How we color and count our lives—in cat-years as much as seasonal-blooms—is as much a function of our doting as it is innateness.
This season, officially concerned with birth—and rebirth—makes the American ideal of second chances all the more alive. If we can nurture castaway fauna into bright-hued, thick-trunked trees and if we can rescue a nine-lived critter who’s already on his eighth and introduce him to the playthings of imagination, then we should be unwaveringly obsessed with our neighbors’ opportunities and well-being.
For our family, such truths are evident: our family is in its own rebirth.
Since our family’s patriarch passed this summer, we are brought together for the first time since the funeral—on the only random day between Thanksgiving and Christmas that everybody could attend—like the bunch of “wilties” that we are: a rag-tag of bad-luck and bad-decision survivors who are ready to dwell on the heroism of service over PTSD, the bravery of sobriety over excuses, the persistence of hard work over failure, and the reunion of family over discord.
Like other Americans—like our American family—we are a family in the throes of resurrection. The holiday season, those months in which we celebrate bounty and the birth of a savior, is but the backdrop for our quest to be a family again: to bask in love and renewal.
The story of our family is the story of America, especially during this season. Despite the outsized partisan differences echoing through Wall Street, K Street, and small-town Main Streets; despite that, in a way, we’re all crazy uncles and shrill aunts and awkward cousins looking for our voices; despite our individual and collected wiltie-nesses, we have this in common: we are Americans. We are neighbors and leaders and entrepreneurs and brothers and sisters and Republicans and Democrats and Independents who are all in this together.
As much as there are wilties longing to bloom, there are Americans eager to pick them up from the barren curbside and love them back into sturdiness.
As much as there are kittens who’ve never purred, there are Americans yearning to rescue them and love them into bright-eyed camaraderie.
As much as there are families hurting, cobbled of broken spirits and neglected opportunities, there are Americans to love them back into the bounty and rebirth—and second chances—that make America’s spirit great.
Like any family, there are trials.
Like any family, we should be clambering to be the pickers-up and rescuers—clambering to be the firsts to renounce petty prejudices and grudges.
Like a single family, let’s—earnestly, faithfully, and with thanksgiving—gather together, embrace the wilties among us, and make this the season of renewal we need for each other: for our nation.