Each December, I settle into the comforting, yet somewhat stressful ritual of sending holiday cards – choosing the photograph and the words, not too many, not too few, that will sum up my life for my far-flung family and friends. Each year the list of recipients waxes and wanes, but I try to hang on to old friends, the ones who aren’t part of my day-to-day life anymore. This yearly exchange of greetings is, in some cases, my only indication of how things are going for people who have been important to me. Some years there is the deafening silence of the holiday cards that never arrive and I hold my breath for weeks, months, sometimes another year, to find out whether my friends have gotten too busy or are being environmentally conscientious, too much time has elapsed for our previous connection to still hold meaning, or whether something is wrong.
One of the most poignant things about aging is that the longer you live, the more you experience, either directly or vicariously. On far too many occasions, the holiday cards that never came to me have been harbingers of bad news – death, divorce, cancer, betrayal. Silence one year, then evidence the next year that my loved ones were picking up the pieces, as demonstrated by a card I once received with one name from the family of four conspicuously absent and this message: “Happy New Year, Happy New Home, Happy New Life.”
In addition to the cheerful missives about weddings, babies, ski trips, soccer games and high school graduations, there have been sad, yet putting- on- a- good- face holiday letters from widows and divorcees, inspirational letters from friends who have braved chemotherapy and stroke rehabilitation, resigned letters from disappointed parents, and two different sets of cards from one formerly single family unit, the kids pictured in both. In these first few weeks of 2011, I have heard about five different friends and acquaintances who have either lost or will soon lose a parent.
Holiday cards and Facebook , their 21st century descendent, remind me of the New York Times Magazine’s annual year-end edition, entitled “The Lives They Lived.” Only instead of chronicling the milestones of the rich and famous, they provide a window into the collective human experiences of the rest of us.
“Every year my friends and family insist on receiving a holiday card from us,” laughs Dipti Cox, who acknowledges that there was a time when she was unable to communicate with her loved ones. Shortly after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, Dipti’s two year-old son Brody was diagnosed with leukemia. Mother and son underwent chemotherapy together. Meanwhile, husband Eric organized the Winter Pineapple Classic, a Hawaiian-themed 5k obstacle course race, which raises funds to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Held each November in Seattle since 2006 and also in Dallas starting in 2010, the Winter Pineapple Classic has had more than 11,000 participants and has raised over $1.5 million. 2011 will be a turning point for this pivotal event, which is expanding to include six additional cities.
After she and Brody recovered, rather than making lemonade from the lemons she was given, Dipti made chai, specifically the hand-made Indian masala chai recipe that she learned from her mother, which has been passed down through five generations of her family.
I’ve found that Dipti’s Chai Tea Masala is the perfect gift to give a suffering friend when words seem inadequate and it is also the perfect way to soothe your own aching heart when you don’t have your mother to comfort you. It is the warm, spicy equivalent of a hug.
You can buy Dipti’s Chai Tea Masala at the Sunset Hill Green Market in Seattle (6405 32nd Avenue, NW, Seattle 98107, Tel: (206) 784-7594) or order it online at www.naturallynirvana.com. A portion of the proceeds from each sale supports breast cancer research.