When I lived in New York and took acting classes, I was assigned to work on a scene with a woman who was in her early fifties. She had always seemed bemused and quietly removed from interactions with our most of our class. I thought it was because she was easily thirty years older than anyone else in class and seemed to find us all a little tedious.
We arranged to go to her place to practice, because once she found out where I lived, she said in a Tallula Bankhead kind of voice, “Darling, I don’t go anywhere where I have to walk up six flights of stairs.” And she wrote out her building number.
As I walked the Upper East Side, holding her address in my hand, I wondered what kind of apartment she had. The day wasn’t hot, yet, because the June sun hadn’t really worked its way into the pavement like it does by August.
Between Park and Lexington, I found her address. She lived in a brownstone. She welcomed me in the front room, and we got down to work.
After a while I asked if I might have a glass of water. She made a polite apology for not offering me something sooner and motioned me to follow her. The building extended from the street to a courtyard in the back. It was filled with intricate wood moldings, and built-in bookcases, and was exactly how I had always imagined these houses to be every time I walked by one.
As we started to the kitchen, we came upon a fully decorated dead Christmas tree. It was breathtaking even now; it was tall, the ornaments exquisite.
It must have been even more beautiful six months ago when the needles were green. There were still a few opened Christmas presents beneath it. I glimpsed a cashmere sweater in one box.
“Your Christmas tree?” I asked.
“Yes, it was beautiful. I couldn’t bear to take it down this year,” she said and walked on. The conversation was over, and it wasn’t until our next rehearsal she confided, “My husband is leaving me. He told me between Christmas and New Year, a younger woman, his secretary.”
I tried to be a sympathetic ear, but she impatiently waved for us to go on. We did our scene, and afterwards I walked back to my apartment.
A few weeks after we did our scene, the woman dropped out of the class. I never saw her again.
I wonder when her Christmas tree came down.
Every year in December as I run frantically around trying to finish all my self-imposed tasks, I think of her.
Christmas is simply a time of hope. Hope is present every time a child is born because there is an endless possibility of what that child will bring to the world. As January rolled into February, March and through spring into summer, the woman stayed with Christmas because it represented hope for her that things would be like they once were.
My hope this year is that we find the joy in our existence and the peace of that joy.
(Editor’s note: I wrote this 19 years ago—but I still believe in Christmas hope as the country works its way through the Covid pandemic.)