OPINION: When the Ghosts of Christmas march on

I paged through Facebook Wednesday and came across a friend quoting Robert Frost:

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes on.”

Yeah, I thought, and then flipped on.

Another post stopped me. The site’s “memory” function trotted out a photo I posted Dec. 21, 2017, exactly five years ago. It was a shot of my son, Michael, coming home from his “final” stay at Children’s Healthcare, where he lived off and on for eight months to receive intense treatments and operations to fight osteosarcoma, a brutal bone cancer.

Things looked bright at the time. It was nearly Christmas. The family was in town to celebrate, the hospital staff had gathered to clap us out and my daughter, Emma, had ordered matching Christmas sweaters for Mick; our pit bull, Darla; and her Chihuahua, Dingo. She asked him to put on the sweater and then surprised him, shoving the two sweatered dogs into his arms as he walked in the back door.

The moment brought a guttural explosion of welcome laughter, relief and white hot joy. That millisecond— with his brothers, Fred and Liam, and my wife, beaming and clapping — is frozen forever.

It was perhaps the happiest moment of our lives. A palpable ain’t-it-good-to-be-alive occasion. The ordeal was over. Or at least that’s how we embraced it as friends and family gathered to absorb that moment in time.

We didn’t gaze into the future. We didn’t dare. It was living in that moment, one you never wanted to release. Two nights later, we had a garage full of people, a fryer, hot wings and eggnog. Then Christmas.

And then life went on.

The merriment was fleeting. The cancer returned. Michael fought it, postponing his freshman year of college. A year later, he finally went off the University of Georgia.

Another Christmas came and went, as did another. That one was without him, as will each one going forward forever.

Credit: Some Random Guy

Credit: Some Random Guy

Our family still gathers each year for Christmas week, coming from far and wide, as we have for decades. A family field trip to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens on Christmas night for the holiday light extravaganza has been on the schedule for maybe 20 years, with my minivan packed with revelers and followed by an overflow car.

The annual traffic jam to enter the event — surrounded by a forest of a million blinking, pulsating lights — is one of those moments that grab you in reflection: Holy smokes! Another year hasn’t blown by this fast, has it?

It has. It’s one of those milestones confirming you’ve inched down the timeline another earthly notch.

The Ghosts of Christmas Past tumble back in memories of photos of holidays long ago, of thoughts of people no longer here or who are far away, of memories of The Gloria sung at Midnight Mass or excitedly tearing open presents under the tree when you were 5. Or maybe just a song on the radio triggering the memory banks through the mists of time.

Christmas, like the song suggests, is that most wonderful time of the year. It, of course, can also be one of melancholy. That’s why “Blue Christmas” is such a fave.

Joy and sadness live in tandem.

So, as it goes. In July, our daughter had a baby, the first grandkid for Julie and me.

His name is William Henry but he’s called Hank. My son-in-law, Will, is a huge Braves fan. (I’m glad he didn’t lean toward Chipper or even Dansby.)

Hank is long and skinny, has fluffy red cheeks, and carries a serious countenance when interacting with the world.

Credit: Will Stamper

Credit: Will Stamper

Naturally, he’s the cutest baby ever and is smart and funny. He mimics tongue-flatulating raspberry sounds upon demand and bounces on sturdy legs. (Now, I’ve never seen a family who didn’t think their baby wasn’t the cutest and smartest and whatever other superb attributes come to mind when a brand new human being drops into your lives.)

One coworker made the point that all white newborns look like Dwight D. Eisenhower. I took issue with this. Some resemble Winston Churchill.

Hank lives in Colorado, so I’ve only seen him twice and not since September, when he was nowhere near as playful and interactive as now. Since then, I’ve made do with Facetime chats. They are welcome, but pinching rosy cheeks is hard to accomplish that way.

Emma, who once dressed the dogs, is exceptional at costuming the nipper, whether it be a reindeer outfit or a miniature UGA “Starter” jacket in time for the Bulldogs/Tech game. Or there’s the shot of Serious Hank, stiff as a board, with Deadpan Santa posing like they’re ready for a Daguerreotype.

Our house has been largely quiet, other than our miniature parrot and three-legged pit-bull, who somehow ended up with the same cancer as Michael. Both pets, incidentally, have been left behind by Torpy youths. I write this with a bird on my shoulder.

I miss the noise around the abode, the thumping of the floor and scurrying afoot that occurs when four kids abound.

Now the next generation is here. Someone whose future is boundless and whose present is a waving, bouncing, gurgling and drooling joy.

Life, it goes on.

Merry Christmas.