We raise a toast to celebrate those that are here on this night. It doesn’t matter that it pains us all, so late and so cold, to venture from our families and out into the wild. The slick-song whisper of a snowy winter night beckoning us all to warmth and light and company.
We raise a toast because that’s what we’ve always done. We fondly remember those who could not be here, even when we don’t fondly remember those who are absent. It is a night for putting those things out of ones mind, at least sitting round the table with old friends such as these.
Roads taken. Roads forsaken. We are the results of our choices, sundered by the seas of time and distance and occupation. At times one looks upon those gathered and thinks that there but for the grace of god go I, other times a man heart swells with a dark jealousy for the fortune of friends, unspeakable longing for half-remembered futures and hastily constructed pasts.
Years might have past. Days. Hours. Old jokes spring forth, easy informality a warm blanket against the season, laughter pours forth to smooth over the gaps in knowledge, the vast unmentionable spans of time between moments such as these. We gather not to remember that lack, but to celebrate the riches we have now. The memories. The stories. New stories or old, the stories are what bind us. We share and we grow closer.
Yes, we toast to all of this. To shared experience and experience shared. To those who left us, and those who could stay. And when we leave this table, we know not when we’ll sit here again. On this night, this yearly tradition, we come together more by fate than the calendar’s sway. And someday, in some distant future we can only barely dream about, perhaps we shall do it again. Yet if we only have this moment, this one cold evening where we came together in true friendship, then that will warm us on many more nights such as these where there is no fellowship to comfort us.
We part, one by one, leaving as they came. Each back to their own heads, their own hearts, their own homes. Connections broken, destinies sundered. Alone. But with the ghost of togetherness, that ephemeral spark of company and happiness, to validate all the other, all the blackness and wondering and loneliness and nostalgia oh nostalgia that bitter drink of spoiled dreams and chased after moments. You sat at our table too, you ruiner, and marveled at us.
We thank you too for your silence, however brief it might have been.