Do you remember the butterflies of anticipation on Christmas Eve? Santa was coming and it meant that sleep would be hard to come by. I remember lying awake, tossing and turning, a big smile on my face, anticipating the arrival of a visit from a benevolent friend who, I imagined despite my absence, would take a moment to rest in our living room, boots off while eating mom's crescent cookies and reflect on a night of good doing before taking off again. I don't remember ever being all that excited about the gifts that he would leave behind, I was enthralled by the magic of a visit of a trusted friend. Even if I couldn't get up and grab a cup of hot chocolate, sit on the couch with my feet curled under me and just chat with him into the dawn, it still felt like a visit of a friend from far away.
I've just spend the week in London. The twinkling lights, boughs of holly, flying angels over Oxford street and Christmas markets that stretch all along the Southbank are just magical. It felt like I'd been swept onto a movie set. What is already so Victorian most of the time with laneways not much larger than a horse and buggy and archways over cobblestones suddenly becomes a scene out of Downton Abbey. The afternoon children's concert of carols at St Paul's Cathedral was so breathtaking that it nearly convinced me of time travel.
But despite the beauty and my sheer joy for being a part this country's traditions, the butterflies that kept me up at night were for the visits I was anticipating. I am lucky to have many very dear friends that live in England. Some are friends from highschool days (which I confess is 30 years ago!) when I just started travelling and thought the whole world exotic. Some are friends I've met on conference a mere 3 months ago, and instant connection bound by a common cause and passion for how we will bring change to our corners of the world. Some I've worked with over the last 20 years with shared timelines, pressures and successes and others are transplanted Canadians who have made home away from home.
All are dear to me. And the butterflies come as I plan our visits - lunch, drinks, coffees, walks, afternoon stroll, matinee show and dinners, surprise evening outings, day spent cooking before Christmas eve stockings. It is the same anticipation I had once held for Santa. That same knowing that magic is about to happen. There is something so keenly wonderful for me in the meeting up with old friends. Oh sure with technology we have managed to keep in touch rather easily. Facebook and emails keep us "up to date" on all the big storylines. Skype has let me see their children grow up, their renovations take place, their new puppies play. And yet. It is not the same as crossing the ocean and sitting at a table from which I can see the view of London's most recognized landmarks, waiting for them to arrive.
I remember when I heard Maya Angelou say that your eyes should light up as a child walks into a room. It struck me as such a pure gift that we can give one another. The knowing that we are anticipated, that our entrance is the highlight of the moment, the room. As I wait for my friends I can't help the anticipation and the joy beaming from me. I truly feel touched that each of these friends who is honouring me with the precious thing which we all crave more of, time. And as I see them walk through into the room, I get a sense of deja vu and wonderment all at the same time. In a split second I time travel to all the heartfelt moments, the shared cups of tea, the long walks or hearty laughs. I hear their hopes and their concerns in my memories and I am overwhelmed by tenderness. And inevitably I leap forward and envelop them in a very non-British, full hearted Canadian hug.
Oh it sounds so sentimental I know. But honestly, to hold a friend close, to transcend the passing of time, to feel in that instance an alliance to humanity, to throw my head back in laughter as I am simultaneously tucking my feet up under me as I settle in for a long catch-up over a mug of mulled wine. This is the promised gift that Santa always represented for me. To make time for each other's hearts, to be focused on only each other, to listen to the stories of our conquests and redirections, our families and our adventures and to share in each others customs and traditions.
As they walked in, my eyes lit up for each one of them. They are still beaming even as I write this, seat 15A on this onward journey to the next part of my holiday adventure.
HoHoHo. Thanks Santa. See you next year.
And with love to Helen, Mark, Gina, Gavin, Patric, Sabrina, Richard, Lorie, Clara, Adrian, Emma, Mike, Georgie and Ally.... in anticipation until we meet again. Thanks for being my dearest gifts.