Below is our annual Christmas/holiday letter. I notice that as the years pass these are getting to be less about me and mine and more about you. I guess I'm okay with that.
Friend of mine’s dad was a roofer. Roofers, like all contractors, got stories.
This was one of his: One job, he was doing a full rip-and-replace on a house. He was pulling up decking on the backside when he slipped, fell between the joists, and crashed through the ceiling below.
It was a bedroom he landed in, one covered in a good quarter inch of dust. Furnished, but undisturbed for months, maybe years.
He tried the door. It was walled in.
He pondered options as quick as he could, settled on the certainty that whoever would wall up a perfectly good furnished room probably didn’t want it found for reasons. So he built himself a Jacob’s Ladder to freedom out of the furniture, shimmied up through the hole, and put new decking on in a big damn hurry.
See, this is what gets me whirling. Things in treeholes. Hidden tunnels. I look at an unmown chigger farm at the bottom of a runoff ditch and I am certain there is a small city of something bustling in that brush. A place where the real stuff goes down.
I’ve chased those places most of my life. I percolated upon the notion that there would come the day when I’d find a key or accidentally switch identical bags with a stranger or crash through a ceiling, and down the rabbit hole I would go.
They were beautiful thoughts. Incomplete, but it’s what’s left out of those stories that matters most.
Someday, I’d think. Someday I’ll learn the secret. The world behind the world.
But there’s another thing. Look:
Years ago I introduced my boy to Star Wars. I sat him down and turned it on and watched him watch it. I watched him laugh and cry and grope for reassurance and jump up and down and clap and cheer.
I awoke in his world, one I hadn’t inhabited myself for some time. I was, just for a moment, unbound. It was 1981 and I had more time than I could conceive of spending. He took my hand and said look, come and see. Pull out the blue book with the strange writing on the top shelf and stand back.
Right now one of you is feeling alone. One of you is suffering a loss.
One of you is sitting in your favorite chair, farting contentedly. One of you is thinking about how you’re in love right now and hoo-boy, you’re going to bust. One of you is grappling with a bad decision you’re going to make, even though you don’t want to.
One of you is just done for today.
And later you will need to go out, and maybe you will close those doors to the public, maybe wall them up for good.
Those are the secret cities I was looking for. I tried to find them by shutting out what I regarded as noise and turning inward, and it took me most of four decades to figure out that that was the exact wrong thing to do.
One of you is not so sure about what you just ate. One of you is afraid to open your mouth and let the bag of crazy tumble out. One of you is really happy with your socks right now, and no one could possibly see how much you needed that.
All of you are, in some way, afraid.
I learned this in stumbles and skips, usually by falling through someone’s ceiling, or seeing them fumble and fall through their own walled-up door.
I needed only to see you, to hear you. You were the hidden city. And I nearly missed you, because I was looking in a goddamn shrub. Because I am slow sometimes.
Still, I found you, and here we are. I have seen what you see. I have wondered why, just like you. And I will do what I can to help you figure it out too. I and my family are here.
And we are. We are here. We are harried and awash in mess and sleep-deprived and eating WAY too much refined flour just like you, and we are here. For you, and with you.
Look. Look: We are here.
We hope this unnervingly warm holiday is as good to you as it has been to us. Because frankly, it’s been so good to us that we’re feeling a little guilty and we need to spread some of that joy around so that we may sleep the sleep of the just.
So tell us. Tell us everything. About your secret place, if you’re comfortable. About your socks if not, but remember: We’ve seen weirder. We’ve been to Texas.