The clock on my laptop tells me that it’s six-thirty-six in the morning. The world outside the apartment windows is still cloaked in darkness, still relatively sleepy and quiet. Inside, too, the night lingers. The living room, in fact, is illuminated only by the light of my computer screen and the glow of our miniature Christmas tree. There’s a steaming cup of coffee beside me and the knowledge that some thirty minutes away, my mother is doing the same thing—drinking coffee and memorizing the patterns of light and shadow that the Christmas tree casts on all of the walls.
This, for me, is the magic of the holidays: quiet moments when life is suddenly more than a busy work schedule and a multitude of adult responsibilities. It’s the first snowflake falling to the ground. It’s a cup of hot cocoa at the end of a long day. It’s a candle flickering in a frosty window.
I was more than a little surprised, then, when I experienced that same sense of magic not in a moment of stillness, but in a moment of laughter among good friends and family.
For the last 29 years, I have been a wallflower. Invitations—to weddings, birthdays, house parties—usually cause me a great deal of anxiety. What will I wear? Will I know anyone there? Am I going to have to talk? When asked to socialize, I usually claim the seat farthest from the action. I prefer listening to others’ stories instead of telling my own. I enjoy soaking in the light of my family’s smiles and the melody of my friends’ laughter.
So what happens when a wallflower co-hosts a dinner party?
Well, there was anxiety involved. Who would I invite? Would anyone even want to come? And, what about all of those family members and friends that I couldn’t invite due to space limitations? How would they feel?
There was also a tremendous amount of cleaning involved. Not-so fun fact: writers are not great housekeepers unless there is a deadline looming.
Yet, despite all the worries and work, when the doorbell rang announcing the arrival of the first guest, there was magic. I felt it glowing in the porch lights, caught in the planters filled with freshly cut evergreen boughs. I could taste it in the delicious food that my partner was serving. I could hear it in the conversation and the laughter warming our apartment. By the end of the evening, my eyes stung with gratitude for the small group surrounding me, for the bright memory we were making, and for the opportunity to step into a role that I could have never had without any of them.
Can I tell you a secret, Dear Reader?
Occasionally, wallflowers dream about having the courage to host a party. They imagine decorating their space. They imagine welcoming friends and family into their homes, taking their coats, and making sure that their guests are well-supplied with food and drink. They imagine having a day, an evening, when not everything they say is a potential mistake. Wallflowers, sometimes, dream of participating, of being fully present and not just an indistinct figure in the background of a faded photograph.
This, then, is the magic and the gift of a dinner party: it coaxes the wallflower to bloom, at least temporarily, and only in the presence of those she holds dear.