I have been in a funk. I’m not sure if it’s seasonal blues, or if it’s just the weight of the world bearing down. There’s plenty of heartache and hurt in my family and friends circle at the moment, and instead of using that proximity as a caliper of measuring how frankly lucky and blessed we are, it’s mostly just dropped one wet blanket of disaffection after another on top of me. I’d gotten stuck.

Things kind of came to a head yesterday when Kel and I took the kids to try and come up with a Christmas card picture.

To begin with, we didn’t have the vision for the picture. We were starting off behind. We’ve both been busy as of late, and the ideas we’d tossed around for a Christmas card picture–because, you know, these things are supposed to be meaningful pictures, the kind you hang on your fridge for goodness sakes–well, those ideas weren’t working out. They were too complicated or required more planning than we had time for.

But we kind of had a hunch about shooting pictures downtown, so we packed up everybody in Christmas Best Clothes and trotted into town, wagon and reindeer stuffed animals in tow. I carefully parallel parked, and then we found ourselves in front of Statesville’s historic courthouse, greened up with fir wreaths and lights (which were off, you know, because it was daytime and all).

It kind of went downhill from there.

I’d had this ridiculously planned picture in mind in which sister and brother embrace in the kind of miraculous moment TV holiday specials are steeped in. This, I thought, would be the card that stays on the fridge year round.

Thomas, however, thought otherwise. He broke into sobs as soon as Kelly sat him down on the sidewalk next to Jules. Julia, on the other hand, gave Thomas a look as if to say, dude, double-you-tee-eff.

Eventually we wrangled Thomas into the little wagon, and Julia labored to pull him across the plaza in front of the courthouse, breathless after each tow as if she were in the toddler equivalent of a tractor pull. Meanwhile, I dodged about, snapping away and cursing as stuffed reindeer antlers blocked the better shots.

I’ve come to believe that capturing two children under four smiling at the same time is like seeing a double rainbow.

There we were, out in public for Pete’s sakes, one child crying relentlessly, the other throwing up her arms and getting a little ticked at her brother, while Kelly and I aped about in a fruitless attempt to inspire smiles and giggles. People passing by on the sidewalk stopped to stare at the spectacle, two tired adults trying desperately to capture the PORTRAIT OF THE YEAR on digital film, trying to portray that OF COURSE WE’RE HAPPY, WE’RE A FAMILY, CAN’T YOU SEE HOW HAPPY WE ARE? amid the wailing of our progeny.

I didn’t say a word as we drove home, both children by now in tears.

I’m not an angry person, though, and rare is the fury that doesn’t quickly melt. By lunch, we were better, and soon it was nap time, and later it was night time.

Yesterday afternoon we’d heard that a young toddler not much older than Julia, a little girl named Pearce, was nearing the end of her life. She was born with a rare disorder called anencephaly, a kind of developmental disorder that means her brain never fully formed in the womb. Pearce’s mother was counseled about terminating her pregnancy when her doctors discovered her situation, especially since few babies born with such limited brain development survive more than a few hours.

But Pearce’s mother believed and prayed for her unborn daughter, and soon Pearce arrived, and instead of dying right away she lived, defying nearly every medical statistic on record.

All of us, though, no matter how sweet or innocent or young, have a finite number of days upon this earth, and Pearce’s are drawing to a close. Her undeveloped brain cannot keep pace with her growing body, which requires more cerebral horsepower to vitally function than she is capable of producing. Her liver is failing, and her life is fading.

While I wrestled our children into a Christmas card pose, Pearce’s family gathered and prayed for peace. They gave thanks, I’m sure, and they said grace over this little girl whose very life was a force of willpower.

Last night, well past eleven, Kelly and I were making the best of our portrait session and begging to do something magical with the meager offering of pictures we’d made it out with, when the dogs began barking and barking and barking.

I pulled on the pair of old shoes I keep in the basement and waged out into the cold night, the ground soft from Friday’s rain. I heard an urgent mewing from somewhere in the dark, so I dialed up my cell phone flashlight and soon found a pair of eyes glowing back at me.

Glowing back, that is, from twenty feet up in a tree.

The kitten was stuck, and she needed down, and soon I was parading about with a host of poorly-thought ideas: first, the small ladder, which wasn’t long enough; then the small ladder with a two-by-four timber on top, which I imagined the kitten could scurry down (I was wrong); then, a bucket attached to my pruning saw pole, which functioned like a make-shift firetruck ladder (she ignored it); and then, finally the big ladder, which I’d dug into the leafy forest floor as best I could and leaned against the tree trunk.

The stranded feline walked down to the top rung, then curled up and parked and started mewing once more.

I climbed up, one rung at a time, not really sure what I was doing. It was dark and cold and windy, and I wasn’t sure if the ladder would slide off the tree (I’m afraid of heights), or if I would get close to her and she’d jump at me, claws fully extended. I imagined the outcome of the scenario: Kelly explaining to Julia and Thomas that the reason Daddy is spending the rest of his life in traction is because he fell out of a tree trying to rescue a cat.

But I reached the little mottled furball, and I scratched her head, and she purred, and she let me clasp the nape of her neck, and down we went, two cold souls in the dark night, each of us coming unstuck. It was imperfect: I cursed the cat when it was all over, and in return, she paced the fence mewing for something more.

When I’d put up the ladders and the pole saw and the two-by-four, and when I’d pulled off my muddy shoes and come upstairs, my body pulsed with adrenaline, and I relayed the story back to Kel. Then, not knowing what else to do, I went to sleep.

I hate climbing ladders, and I’m not fond of cats, yet yesterday something compelled me to overcome both attitudes and scale up into the frigid night to ferry back a stray kitten, and it was like the ice flows had dislodged, and suddenly I felt alive for the first time in a while.


NOTE: The post above was originally published on an earlier iteration of this blog. SUNDAYS was a regular feature.