Sunday in the Park
December 22, 2011
I’ve been thinking this week about the three-act play where life is defined by one’s relationship to holidays. Right now, with Christmas just hours away, it seems kinda obvious. And perhaps necessary to step back from the edge, the ledge, of fraught expectations and temper it with something more, well, seasoned.
As children we look to Christmas to fulfill our secret (or not-so-secret) wishes the bike, the train, the skis, the jacket, the puppy, the pony. We are dependent on someone else making our wishes come true. This leads to both great joy and great disappointment.
In the second act, we realize that while we may still hold onto the idea of the perfect surprise gift that completes us, we come to understand, with a bit of disillusionment, that gift doesn’t actually exist. The shiny ring or necklace or bracelet won’t fix the addiction or abuse or illness of a child. That commercial with the new car with the red bow? You know the odds are that the psychic cost of that car is usury. You learn to be independent and to declare your dreams and you set about a way to make them real. You manage your expectations.
The third act is the understanding that The Stuff never mattered; it was the people and the relationships. It was the time set aside where all the little moments happened, the games were played, the stories told, the bread passed around the table. Sharing is what made the holidays bright. Being grateful you have been invited, included, wanted. Being reminded of returning those simple favors of a home-cooked meal and an unhurried conversation. Spaces created where you admit the parts that make the whole can change.
And the gifts you want to have and give, have become all the intangibles health for everyone suffering, peace for troubled souls, meaningful jobs for all, equality, and hope. They are out of reach for the most part, but you can lend support in a variety of fashions for those in search. You can donate time and resources and knowledge and, perhaps, something approaching wisdom. You can at least share the lessons you have gathered along the way. Admit mistakes with glee. Laugh at your foibles and stop pretending they didn’t happen. Give away your extra coat or dresser or car. Remembering that the next part of your journey doesn’t require or allow any baggage.
Then you see anew. The teddy bears are charming again; the sweet smiles from happy, healthy children are most charming of all. The waiter who cheerfully brings your meal: you wonder about him, where he lives, how many other jobs he has besides this one, what does he aspire to really do … could you help him? And who made your meal, prepped it, unloaded the boxes groaning with produce or beans? And you decide, right then and there, to overtip. You are grateful in a way you didn’t see coming.
Recommended Stories For You
At the doctor’s office, where you are visiting for a routine matter, you see folks who are really, really sick. You know this from the telltale wigs or bandanas worn over heads where all hair has been lost. You know this from casts and crutches and bandages and folks being unloaded from ambulances in the next room. And you wonder when was the last time you mentioned how much you appreciate your doctor’s care. You leave slightly embarrassed at your current good health.
At the ski hill where they have been making snow happen despite any discernible help from moody Mother Nature, you think how fortunate we are to have had wise men (and women) years ago anticipate the need to invest in snowmaking. And you know on Christmas morning that many folks will be skiing, first thing, testing out the new skis or snowboards or just warm gloves. Behind the scenes it will have taken many, many people to run the lifts and make that experience memorable, and you are grateful they all showed up for work on the holiday.
The third act can appear to be about age, but I caution that is about attitude. Some very young persons are very old souls and grasp these distinctions early on. There are others who spend all their days on earth waiting to be served or gifted and never find the joy in letting all that go.
I am late to the ball. My adult children arrived before me. Their children seem to have a calm I envy. This year, as in the past few, my little family will share the hours with our godmother, with each other and alone. There will be shared meals and separate spaces for reading, reflecting, watching a fire die down. The gifts have arrived unbidden. My job is to acknowledge them long before Christmas, which just happens to be this very Sunday 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.