September 23, 2018

Christmas 2012!

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Christmas this year fetched up on the shores of Doodlebug Island in much the same fashion as in previous years with the exception of the increase of baking, neighboring, and gift giving that threatened to swamp past records for their intensity and thoroughness. It almost had an Aztec “end of the world” quality to it because activity rose to a peak about the twenty-second following a solid month of preparation, which nearly eclipsed Thanksgiving altogether. The twenty-third, twenty-fourth, and Christmas Day itself were anticlimactic with Islanders hunkering down at home like so many hibernating bears, content in the belief they’d done all they could to round out the season.

But about ten o’clock Christmas morning, it appeared to dawn on residents they’d survived the predicted doomsday and that they hadn’t seen friends or family in the last seventy-two hours, and they had no knowledge of how well recipients of all the cookies, pies, cakes, and assorted gifts had appreciated their newly-found largesse, so Island streets soon bore the congested traffic of folks determined to end the isolation and learn how their gifts had been received.

Of course, not all residents participated in the joviality just described. Heber McGraw steadfastly refused to decorate his house, and he wasn’t about to involve himself in exchanging gifts with neighbors, or putting up a Christmas tree. Perhaps this wouldn’t have been such a disappointment were Heber’s house not located immediately next to the Town Square, which blazed with Yuletide lights and seemed to center the hopes and aspirations of the community. Instead, the house cast a gloomy pall on its surroundings which nothing could offset. Heber himself remained the crusty old misanthrope he’d always been with no Scrooge-like conversion having overtaken him. But, this was to be expected. He has been that way forever, and folks rather look for him to anchor the lower end of the happiness continuum. And, after all, someone has to fill that role.

By common agreement of Island residents, no high-school choir nor church choir, nor community choir was tempted to perform Handel’s redundancy, The Messiah. This was disappointing to those few given to the idea that Christmas should somehow have a punitive quality to it and be inflicted on people through Handel’s repetitive nonsense. They were further disappointed by Islanders’ avoidance of the pseudo-religious “Little Drummer Boy,” a fabrication long on sentimentality and short on rationality. Otherwise, Christmas music seemed to pour from every conceivable source, making for a gaiety that warmed almost every heart.

For my wife and me and for other empty nesters, this has been a reflective season. Perhaps because we were remembering the time our children were young, and Christmas had a poignancy and an immediacy now missing for us. I look at her and am amazed that she has so stoically and loyally borne the ups and downs with me, remained steadfast in the face of more downs than ups, tolerated my moodiness and explosive piques, worked to create a warm, nurturing home, and ever shared her love.

What a marvelous gift she has been. She is Christmas and New Years, birthday celebrations, and national holidays all rolled into one, and I am forever thankful that she has been willing to partner with me in this difficult classroom called life. For a couple things become clear: We trade our life for those experiences we create for ourselves; and we are free to learn and interpret the lessons that life can teach us, if we but will.

By these standards, Heber might, if he thought about it, consider his life a failure. Given the choice to decide the degree to which he will be happy or sad, he appears to have chosen the more jaded view. A reminder to the rest of us that freedom and free will have only the limits we put upon them, and that decisions regarding such things as purpose and contentment are of our own making.

Being ever the practical person I am, I didn’t fail to put a more extended version of these conclusions into a suitable editorial which will run in next week’s Doodlebug Island Run-on, the newspaper I own and publish. It’s my way of bidding the old year a philosophical goodbye while welcoming in the new year on the expectant note that it will continue granting all the good and lovely things my wife and I, family, friends, and fellow Islanders have gratefully enjoyed over a lifetime together.

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