“Papa, can you tell me about Christmas?” asked the five-year-old granddaughter of the man whose knee she was perched upon at that moment.
“Sure honey, what do you want to know?” was the confident reply of Papa.
“Well first, what’s the difference between Santa and Jesus? And do Mary and Joseph live at the North Pole? And, at Sunday School we learned about the three Wise Men, but at school we sang about Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Was Rudolph at the manger with the Wise Men,” were the initial round of questions blurted out by Katie, Papa’s granddaughter. “It’s all getting jumbled up in here,” said Katie pointing to her head.
“Well we don’t want things getting confused up there, now do we,” said Papa. “You could end up like Uncle Fred, but that’s a whole different story.”
Papa settled into the recliner and snuggled Katie close in. There was a lot of explaining to do, as Rickey often told Lucy. “First you asked about Christmas, so let me tell you about that. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus; the son of God. That is the main reason for all the decorations, and the lights, and the funny blow up snowmen at your Daddy’s house. We have a party on your birthday right?”
Last week we helped move our daughter, her husband and their six month old daughter into a new apartment. The entire move was accomplished in a single day with the help of a rental truck, dozens of boxes, and willing friends and family. I’m not certain why it is so, but moving-in always seems easier than moving -out. The new apartment was empty and clean; each appliance was new and shiny, the walls gleamed with fresh paint, and every bathroom tile was buffed to perfection. By contrast, the old residence appeared cluttered and in need of a thorough cleaning, as is the state of most apartments on move-out day. Yet at some stage in their mutual existence, the new and old apartments both were filled with furnishings the owner believed they needed, and later, just prior to a new occupancy, the rooms were emptied and cleaned. Space must be made in the old before the new can be moved in.
Since the dawn of time, or since I was a little boy- whichever is longer, I can remember being told that too much of a good thing would be bad for me. I could not understand if something was good, how then could too much good be bad? Of course, my early onset selective memory conveniently misplaced the upset stomach that resulted from a solo attack on a quart of chocolate ice cream; or the burned back and shoulders suffered from not slathering on DP 45 sunscreen at the beach. Still, how could anyone have too many Legos, too many marbles, or enough video games? Our backyard pool could have been bigger, my bedroom was certainly not roomy, and my closet was just too small to be clean.
Most of us try to be first; first in that “over 40 year old 5K race,” first to get the promotion, first in line at the theater, first on line to buy concert tickets, first to get the view of the morning sunrise, first in your college graduating class, or first to get control of the TV remote. Being first has been a preoccupation with humankind, from the beginning of the Olympic games where we proved who was best at some sport, to the first to file a patent so we can lay claim to ownership of a design or idea. It is a natural human condition to want to be first, with a few notable exceptions: the first to die, the first to pay taxes, the first to sin. The reasoning behind not wanting to die first is obvious, and no one enjoys paying taxes so why do it first? To sin is to willingly separate from God, so why be first at something so bad? The initial sin is almost expected, because we all fall short of perfection, but the second sin is by choice – after observing or doing it once, we with full knowledge do it again. So maybe, it is better to be the first sinner, rather than the second. Perhaps the first sin is not the worst, but it is the second sin that we all must avoid.
There is a point on the two lane highway as you enter the Napa Valley where the horizon is filled with vineyards that stretch outward across the valley floor and then sweep upward as high as the hills will allow. The only break in the perfectly aligned rows is an occasional family home, almost always two story and white, with a wide porch encircling the house, or clump of oaks majestically watching over the vines. During summer the view becomes a sea of green, balanced by the alternating red lines of soil; but as autumn arrives a mosaic of red, yellow, and orange attack your senses in a vibrant mosaic of nature. I see a small sign placed at the entrance to a dirt road leading to the white house that reads, “Drive slow – grapes at play.” I think there is more truth to the sign than we know.
Dreams are a fickle animal. Not the dreams we have while sleeping, although the two can definitely be related, but the dreams we have for our future, or that of a spouse or child. Dreams are the building blocks of the road that goes up; they’re the yellow bricks that lead to a sunset over a flower filled hill. Dreams sustain hope, and draw our lips to smile when the circumstances that surround us would dictate otherwise. A house, a new car, a college diploma, a promotion; these are common dreams, but so are peace, serenity, contentment, belonging, acceptance, and love. The fulfillment of some dreams then can be seen and touched, being made of wood, stone and steel. Other dreams are as ghosts, invisible to the eye, but real to the heart and mind. Hard as a rock or light as air, dreams are a powerful creator of emotions, turning light into darkness, and back again as quickly as a thought. The importance of having and holding a dream in the context of a full life cannot be overvalued, so then dreams must be carefully constructed and stored in a fortified space, protected from the harsh elements of today.
Dastardly Dan Dullard (Dan to his friends) sat at the end of a long wooden bar, the many gouges and burn marks that scarred its surface paid tribute to age of the bar, and its patrons. His worn and beyond-dirty black leather and denim outfit was a tight fit (Dan liked animal style fries with his double cheese burger). He wore a 357 magnum low on his right thigh; the leather holster shined from fresh oil. Although it was barley noon, Dan was finishing his third root beer float, made with real ice cream, fully leaded root beer, (Nothing lite for Dan) and topped with two maraschino cherries. Today, he would need all the courage he could buy. Today, Santa Claus was coming to town.
In the shopping mall, or in the parking lot adjacent to the mall, as we approach Christmas Day the intensity increases in almost geometric proportions. In other words, it can get pretty nasty out there. Not with everyone, and not to astronomic levels, but on average the anxiety index goes up as we near the big day. And, if you are one who believes that welcoming the New Year is the second most important day of the year, then the stress will last until sometime in January. There are moments, perhaps days, when the stress dissipates, allowing joy to sneak past the barriers of hurry and rush, bringing forth that smile for which we all search. Why are all of us so determined to self-inflict stress, drama, anxiety, and heartache into the holiday season? Could it be our unnatural, yet all-encompassing need for perfection? Everything needs to be just right. The need for “right” usually isn’t even for us; it not an “about me” complex that rules the emotional landmines cluttering the shopping, cooking, and decorating scheduled for today. No, we need everything to be just right for everyone else. It is the giving part of our celebration which provides such amazing joy and unprecedented weariness in the same instant; it’s the Yin and Yang of Christmas. I say it is time to keep the Ying (amazing joy) and throw out the Yang. I am promoting the idea that not being perfect is okay. Imperfection is the pavement on the road to happiness.
Driving to work I pass by many fields supporting various agricultural delights: corn, tomatoes, grapes, pears, and peaches to name a few. The most interesting field though, is the one that houses the cows. Big, Black Angus and white faced Herefords stand majestically, always seeming to face in the same direction, their heads slowly dropping down to pull up a pound or so of grass, then slowly raising again to munch their lunch. I noticed that they never actually finish lunch; it is an endless goal the cows keep trying to reach – all day long. At first glance, cows may seem less sophisticated than almost anything; not very interesting at all, but on closer inspection the average Angus reveals a methodic intelligence and sense of purpose that is easily overlooked. That big, smelly, slow moving creature may even display brief moments of wisdom.