On the day before Christmas

Back to work this morning but I was much more leisurely about it than normal. I got up at the usual time but made myself a coffee and went back to bed to read a chapter of The Dawn Watch, a very good biography of Joseph Conrad.

By the time I walked out the door, it was about 7.40. It was a sunny morning on a hot day, and it was lively out.

Much of Melbourne has taken today off, and why not? Up at Hampton street, there were people everywhere in their Saturday clothes. It was not 8am yet, but the butchers were open (even though his sign said opening 8am Christmas Eve), so was the fish shop. The greengrocer is always open early, and there was a line snaking out of the bakery.

I looked about thinking this was nice, wishing I had the day off too to be part of it – but then I’ve not really anything I have to plan and purchase for last minute, and no place to be.

As I walked towards the station I heard a general hubbub coming from the café leading to it. The courtyard was full of people in a festive mood. Cyclists in their lycra sat around a long table. Others – friends, families – caught up for a relaxed Christmas Eve breakfast together.

By comparison, the train only filled halfway, which is one of the bonus’ this time of year. I sat by the window, as usual, this time listening to an old Christmas story. A family sat in the seats around me about Elsternwick, dressed in shorts and t-shirts, though elegantly so. Something about them reminded me of my own family back in the day, and I found myself observing them.

It was an adult family, the two kids in their early twenties, their parents in their mid-fifties, handsome and elegant. The mother sat opposite me. She looked nothing like my mum, but she shared some similar quality. She was elegant and well turned out, without any obvious effort being made. She was an attractive woman, engaged with her family and the occasion. They seemed like a family out on a jaunt together on the eve of Christmas. The train was probably a novelty to some of them, and they exuded an unpretentious class different from most on the train.

It felt innately familiar to me, and so it bit more than I expected. I’ve been part of a family like that. I was one of those kids perhaps, safely aware that I was loved and that I existed within this comfortable framework I took for granted. I was reminded – I had long forgotten – that many of my contemporaries when I was a kid looked upon us as a bit different, a bit less raw, a bit more polished. That was my milieu.

It’s very different now. Economically I’m in the lower class even if in outlook I remain comfortably middle class. The important fact, regardless of class, is that I have no family to blend into, no role to play, no expectation to satisfy.

I looked out the window feeling gruff and lost. I might recognise them, but they could never recognise me. And I knew that even if I was doing nothing of significance tomorrow that it was better than to pretend otherwise. I spoke the other day of knowing the forms of things without sharing in any of the blessings. That’s an exaggeration, but it attends a truth. This is why I choose to decline all well-intended invitations tomorrow, because I know the form of it, because I was totally immersed in it once, because I was loved and cherished as an essential part of the festivities – and anything less than that is a counterfeit likely to remind me of all that I have foregone.

It sounds sad, but I take a pragmatic view of it. I’m stoic by nature and I tell myself it won’t be forever. And it’s not quite as stark as all that – I caught up with Donna last week, on Saturday I saw the kids for lunch and an exchange of presents, and even tomorrow, in the evening, I’m off to a friends for a barbecue – after the day has settled.

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