Paul Prather

Paul Prather: Savor the joy because neither good times, nor bad times, last

Paul Prather
Paul Prather

The recent holiday season was among the happiest I've experienced.

I'm tempted to use the word "blissful."

My wife, Liz, who's a high school teacher, is also a writer. During her winter break she holed up in the house and dared anyone from outside to disturb her. She worked on two books, a novel and a memoir.

Fortunately, I happened to hit a rare tranquil period when all my outside endeavors hit simultaneous lulls.

The church I lead was quiet; everybody was getting along with one another, and one Sunday we got snowed out and didn't have services. None of my 20 apartments had a furnace go kaput or a tenant throw a chair through a window.

So Liz and I hung out at home together. It was something akin to what heaven might be like.

She sat in the den typing on her laptop. When she wasn't writing, she made pounds and pounds of candy for our friends and family.

I sat across the room and wrote, too.

When I wasn't writing, I painted, something I love to do. I am, as I've admitted, the planet's worst artist, but I finished four pieces — one for each grandchild. Considering they were executed by the likes of me, all four pictures turned out beautifully.

Speaking of the grandchildren, the new house their mom and dad are building didn't get done on time. The apartment where they all currently live is too small to hold Christmas there, and so my son, John, his wife, Cassie, and the little ones spent Christmas Eve night with Liz and me.

John and I sat together until the wee hours, putting together toys. We all got up as a family Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought. I cooked us a big breakfast.

On second thought, maybe "blissful" isn't too strong a word.

In the midst of this joy, though, I couldn't help feeling haunted by the ghosts of Christmases past.

When I looked at the kids' bright presents lined beneath our tree, I inadvertently thought, with a pang, of the Christmas after my first wife died in 2005.

John and I lived together, two sad bachelors, and I've never seen anything as forlorn as the tree we threw up at the last minute, twinkling in a corner without a single gift under it. Back then, I thought I'd never know happiness again.

I was haunted this year by Christmas 2012, too.

My dad had died in October after a descent into dementia that left him combative, spiteful and paranoid. By December, I'd started moving past my frustration and anger with him, and was grieving the loving, attentive father he'd been for most of my life.

Then, shortly before Christmas, a few of you might recall, I suffered a freaky bout of internal bleeding and found myself strapped in an ambulance as it barreled down I-64 in the night, its emergency lights strobing.

I'm not sure how seriously ill I was, nobody ever said, but whether or not I was being melodramatic, I felt so depleted and had gushed so much bright red blood I wasn't sure I'd be around to celebrate the Yule.

I made it, obviously. But I spent that Christmas and New Year's weak and useless. All I could do was sit on the sofa for a couple of hours, then go back to bed.

Life is funny.

Occasionally it's funny-funny. But mainly it's weird-funny.

You never know what it's going to deal you, not just from one Christmas to the next, but from one day to the next. From one hour to the next.

In 2005 I thought I'd never be happy again. I spent this past holiday season about as happy as a human can get.

In 2012 I thought I might not see 2013. But I did. Now I'm seeing 2014.

Over the decades I've learned a couple of lessons from such vicissitudes.

The first is, nothing lasts. That can be tough to think about when you're in a really good period. You realize it won't endure. Sooner or later, something bad will happen. Has to. Lord only knows what it will be.

Yet that same knowledge can be terrifically comforting when you're in an awful spot. The bad times don't last, either. Thank God.

The second lesson is related: Take advantage of the good times when you have them. Lock the doors, pull on your old sweatpants and write or paint your brains out. Don't feel guilty about it. Treat it as a rare gift. It might not come again for ages.

Kiss your lover. Turn off the phones. Hug the grandchildren. Eat some homemade candy and then eat some more. Savor joy whenever it visits. Play it for all it's worth.