I call this the season of small plates: event after event where you balance your saucer-size plate atop your wine glass as you try to pick up a napkin and still converse with your host/hostess/guests.

You want a dinner plate. You missed/will be missing dinner. The tiny plate can hold only a dollop of guacamole. Maybe three chips. A shrimp in the corner. Perhaps a fried wonton to the side. After that you start stacking finger foods in the hopes of completing the food groups. You don't want to appear actually hungry, but you are starving and won't see food again until the morning. Multiple plates have folks raising eyebrows, glancing askew, frowning a bit. You decide upon the reasonable solution: If you can't eat, drink. No one counts your glasses or seems to notice you at the bar unless you park there.

This is not a good Plan B. You think that with more beverages you are becoming more charming. This is almost never the case. When added to the fact you have only eaten three chips (the guacamole was icky, you set your plate down for just an instant and the wait staff whisked it away). You try very hard to have a different conversation than the one you had the night before with many of the same people who have shown up to this event. You try to be witty but your feet hurt, or you're thinking about what you left undone at work. You wished you still read news magazines. You wish you still read.

Then an event comes along unlike all the others.


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You tell yourself you must go. There is family and a child involved. But you will need to drive to Salt Lake City in the snow. It will be dark when you drive home. You have spent big chunks of your life watching your own children struggle through Christmas performances. But your grandchild has requested you. She has texted you an invite, in fact, on her first phone. U broke all of your own grammar rules responding 2 her. You want to support her and so you go. You find your way to the cavernous church, not of your faith, where the charter school is performing.

When the dreidel song is played and the candles are lit, my mood changes. I notice the evergreen boughs. I fixate on how close they are to the menorah. I wonder what kind of story it would be if the Chanukah candles lit fire to the evergreens in the Baptist church in the Mormon-based town. I also wonder if the person in front of me is transgendered. I find I am having a difficult time concentrating on the actual program. It is a level of pain erased when the program is blessed in every faith system by finally ending, and my granddaughter gives me a hug to thank me for coming. Ah, sweet cynic, where is thy string now? In her goofy Santa hat and evergreen-colored pants she is happy and hip in that middle school way, filled with friends, and life. I tell her she rocked the sleigh bells. She lights up like her own little Christmas tree.

Her little family decides we should go to a favorite restaurant to have a dessert. She and her brother get the giggles. They are giggling about the food and each other and just giggling.

At some point I notice the table across from us. There is a couple about my age having dinner. They do not look like they are celebrating anything. In fact, they look pretty damn unhappy. And then I start to feel it what my Italian friends refer to as The Hairy Eyeball Stare, directed at the children. My grandchildren. The kids are laughing and making bubbles with their straws in their sodas. But they aren't spilling their drinks and they aren't flinging their food. I have seen them do both these things before behave like feral children but tonight they are just being silly and giggly. And I wonder at what point giggling children become annoying and not a reminder of genuine joy.

The next day is a day filled with nonsense at work. Long-distance folks who have the ability to make my life more complicated. Which they do, repeatedly, all day. We are very, very busy at work, which makes the repeated calls all the more annoying. Then the night is filled with obligations and two small-plate parties. I eat an entire shrimp. A slice of salami. Two pieces of cheese. I return home after the 10 o'clock news has started and I notice there is a brown-paper bag left inside my front door. I open it and there is a handwritten note from my neighbor, my friend, and a handmade fat, short candle from her home state. The note is one of understanding. It says not to wait, light the candle this very night. Which, strangely, I feel compelled to do. The scent of the candle is called Silent Night.

I have no idea what that should smell like, but there is a hint of evergreen, a whiff of cinnamon perhaps, and possibly a strong finish with vanilla. It is not too sweet but it sweetly reminds me of one of the great messages of the season. Slow down. Take a moment. Be grateful. For giggling children, and candles bright and fragrant. For friends who understand us. And watch out for us more days than I can count, including Sundays in the Park. ...

Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.