Awake at 6 AM EST — shift an hour for my body and unconscious brain, and it’s 5 AM, and six months ago I was just getting off work, thinking about sleep two hours away. Now it’s 6 AM, and I’m up and mostly conscious, watching memories of myself and my kid sister on Christmas morning. Only now it’s not me and Mandy, but Lucy/Bird and Jack/Linus, Mandy’s kids. Lucy’s old enough to know who Santa is, to get excited about the presents under the paper; Jack’s old enough to like to pull bows off of boxes, and find temporary distraction when crayons or a puzzle come out.
Only temporary, though.
I’m glad I’m old enough now to appreciate the underlying side of Christmas, the family and the ambience of the moment. The hard times have hit everyone — I’ve got friends that have been laid off, and family that is affected by the disintegrating stock market. Gifts are far fewer and smaller than in years past, even more economic than when I was a kid and we didn’t have much money. But all that is secondary to me now; I’ve spent the past week watching my wife (who doubles as my kid when it comes to gift-giving times) open her presents with the starry-eyed excitement and impatience of a six-year-old; and having dinner or drinks with friends and co-workers. I still get immense satisfaction from the giving of gifts, and I’m lucky enough to have been able to afford to give on a close-to-traditional level. But that’s far from the most important part.
It’s been a year for change, I thought last night, driving through the rain and strangely heavy Christmas Eve traffic. My initial thought was that it’s been filled with a lot of loss — Bailey’s Pub closing, and the economy, my youth (that sounds much more hyperbolic than I mean, and deserves more explanation, but explanation that will have to come another time). I remembered, though, that loss and gain are just a matter of perspective, that none of that is defined by the situation but it instead a conscious choice that we can make, overriding the knee-jerk reaction.
I’m choosing (for the moment, at least), to see it as neither gain or loss, but simple forward motion. Everything continues to move, and I find that it’s best not to dwell on anything that has already passed, whether it be regret over the bad or wistful fondness for the good. Yes, the bar closed, but I’m at a new bar, with different opportunities and possibilities and positives. The economy is failing, but it’s worth more focus and work on my part if perhaps it can bring about a perceptual shift in the attitudes of the country. I’m not getting any younger, but a lot of changes that come with age are things that I’m learning to like, to be proud of; and the things that I don’t like, or the consequences of bad choices in the past, can be turned into lessons, for peers and the next generation alike.
I can see the cloud outside that sits on my parents’ house in the mountains of western North Carolina finally being eaten away in the mid-morning sun. I feel the calling of a cigarette and another cup of my baby sister’s way too potent coffee. Keeping up with the energy levels of a two- and four-year old pair is a lot more difficult that I had imagined; better Mandy than me. But it’s a nice temporary change of pace for a few days. Me and the three younger siblings in the same place as our parents for the first time in years. No work, either programming or stocking a bar, for four days, and although I miss my friends and my wife, it’s a good vacation away from the real-world grind.
Times are tough, but I hope that everyone out there can find something good to focus on, at least for a little part of today. If you didn’t get everything you wanted, look around and see what you’ve forgotten that you have. If you can’t be with the person you want, enjoy the time by yourself, something you don’t get nearly as much of as you might think. If nothing else, make yourself an extra-strong cup of eggnog and chase it with another. At least you won’t care as much.
Happy holidays to everyone, no matter what your religious bent. I hope you all manage to enjoy them.