all his health conditions. I am equally grateful for quality time spent with our daughter who has signed up for a gap year overseas, serving as nursing aide in an oncology clinic. As parents we couldn’t be prouder of her independence and tenacity in pursuing her dream.
Being able to spend my birthday with my father, husband, and daughter was a first, a true blessing. As I stated, an early Christmas gift.
My parents were masters in creating the appropriate atmosphere, year after year. They had learned from the best, my grandparents. Like most Germans, my family practiced the wonderful tradition of revealing the annual tree in its full glory no sooner than on Christmas Eve. During Advent, a close-by farmer delivered a fresh-cut specimen. Well-wrapped in old sheets, the pine tree was kept outside to prevent premature needle-shedding. Late on December 23, I would hear my parents heave the 7 ft tree into the living room, where it was adjusted to fit into the stand. Heavy breathing, short word exchanges, sawing, hammering, and finally the rustling of liberated branches that hit a wall or furnishings would suggest what went on behind the closed door. The door to the room was off-limits for everyone for the next 24+ hours. Each year, my parents decorated the tree with golden beeswax candles, Christmas balls, and hundreds of self-made stars and ornaments, some of which had been passed on for generations. In addition to that, two nativity scenes had to be unwrapped. One was made of clay and placed under the tree, while another nativity scene was displayed on top of a long side board. A field of fresh moss cradled the figures. This scene consisted of 57 pieces, was hand-carved and painted by a well-known artist and former patient of my grandfather. I always wondered whether my parents got any sleep at all in the night before Christmas Eve. So much had to be accomplished. Miraculously, they always made it – “with the help of angels”, as my Dad would jokingly add, "and plenty of coffee."
When my parents moved from an apartment with a separate living room into a house with an open floor plan, their task to hide the tree became quite challenging. Ingenious as they were, they hung a hand-stitched table cloth from wall to wall between dinette area and living room. The seasonal design fit the open space perfectly.
When I was little, I was drawn to the forbidden door as if it were a magnet. The key hole was just at the height of my eyes. I could see the key stuck in there from the other side. The temptation to peak through it was huge, but fear dominated. “You might become blind if you try this”, my father had warned me. I certainly didn’t want to risk this. So, I limited myself to listening to the magical sounds coming from the other side. They alone ignited a firework of fantasies in me. The combination of joyful anticipation and the danger of being caught listening turned my bedtime into adventure trips to the forbidden door.
Even as a teenager, I would look forward to Christmas Eve. In the afternoon, the entire family gathered for tea and home-made cookies. We then walked to church. Afterwards we climbed the steep hill up to the cemetery where we lit a tiny tree on the grave of our loved ones. Upon returning home, the moment arrived when Dad disappeared behind the forbidden door and put a certain Christmas disk on the turn table. Halfway through the disk, Ihr Kinderlein, Kommet seeped through the closed door. That was the sign. Shortly after the first verse, Dad rang the Christmas bell and opened the living room door. In that instant, the entire surroundings were swallowed by the magical light and smell of lit beeswax candles on the Christmas tree. A chord deep inside was struck like a gong that made my entire being resonate, bringing tears to my eyes. My family just stood there, in unifying silence. Mesmerized, we would wait until the last note of Ihr Kinderlein, Kommet and Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht had left the room. Then it was my turn to perform - a poem or song I had memorized. Afterwards we wished each other “Merry Christmas!” and the celebration continued.
The magic of Christmas Eve had never failed to impress me.
The airplane takes off and pokes through heavy cloud cover into the serene realm of endless blue. I cannot help but ask myself when this will be my last flight in this direction. I am tired of the constant back and forth. I am tired of experiencing the enormous distance between our tiny family nucleus for most of the year. Deep down I wish I were home in my native country to stay, united with all my loved ones, family and friends. At the moment, life circumstances seem to disagree, but I refuse to give up hope. While I look outside, I want the Universe to give me a sign, a sign that I cannot misinterpret, if I will ever live in my native country again. “Please, show me a perfect rainbow”, I silently ask. The skeptic in me chuckles.
Hours pass. Off and on I look outside. Ever since my first flight I am fascinated by the constant change of cloud formations. A huge stack of puffy white clouds has caught my attention. Their dance with one another is mesmerizing. What is this? I blink and look again. It is still there: the sun coming from the other side of the airplane has cast the plane’s shadow onto a cloud tower. And the shadow is encircled by rainbow colors. I don’t believe this! comments my skeptic. I turn to my husband who looks into the same direction as I do. “Do you see something?” I ask him cautiously. “Do you mean our airplane in the circle over there?” he responds without hesitation. I look back outside. It is still there. My eyes well up. I am unable to move or pull out my camera. The combination of uniqueness and awe in moments like these is impossible to capture anyway. My husband saw it too. I don’t just imagine what I want to see. In addition, I didn’t think the perfect rainbow would be a circle when I asked for a sign. But what is more perfect than a circle? Did I get my answer from Beyond?
About the author
Anja Kerstin Kuentzel,
Advanced Grief Recovery Method specialist, nature lover, photographer, and bilingual wordsmith combines her passions to offer a different perspective on life that might inspire, raise awareness or even heal.