Allegan County News & Union Enterprise Commercial Record Courier-Leader & Flashes

Life as Performance Art

    Years ago, I discovered there is a sweet spot-on Christmas Eve afternoon.  I like to go for a short solitary walk, but not this year.  I go out about the time that many stores begin closing their doors,  sending their staff and customers home for the holiday.  There are fewer cars on the streets, fewer people on the sidewalks. Those who remain are more likely to greet others with a wave and a heartfelt “Merry Christmas.”  As the daylight dims into twilight, outdoor Christmas lights inside and outside homes begin coming into play. I’m grateful for them because I know it is extra work and expense; it’s their way of greeting people, sharing the joy of the season, who past their home. Inside, I like to imagine that children are a bit quieter and extra well behaved,  especially after being cautioned that Santa is watching and still working on his list of naughty or nice boys and girls.
    I know that after the children are snug in their beds and dreaming about whatever those sugar plums things are supposed to be, parents will unpack their child’s gifts. They have been long hidden in the rafters of the garage, Some of The Olds will see those words we adults dread:  Some assembly required.  There is nothing ‘some’ about it. One look at the instructions and there is a LOT of assembly to be done – all written in fine, small font messages, by someone for whom English is not their first language.
    This special time in the afternoon when  I like to slip away for my short walk, and inevitably  find myself thinking about all of the activities that led up to this moment.  All of the time merchants and residents have spent decorating their homes and stores, all of the lists that have been made and checked out, presents bought and wrapped in shipped,  greeting cards sent out and received, and the preliminary work on the holiday meals. A tremendous amount of love and hard work go into all of that. I am grateful for what they have done and take it personally as if it was a gift just for me.
    I think also of how so many people and organizations have gone out of their way, often giving deeply of their time, treasure and talents, to make this a better holiday for others. It includes the school concerts and groups that visit retirement homes to bring a bit of cheer to the residents.  It’s the merchants who have made room for the Toys for Tot boxes,
     It includes city employees who put up the decorations around our towns.  That is, when they aren’t removing snow and ice from the streets and sidewalks, the better to fill in our driveways. It is the men and women of the Post Office, and the delivery service drivers who must be frazzled by now from all the extra work.
    It’s been the women of many small town churches who, usually early in December, still maintain the old tradition of a Christmas bake sale and bazaar despite saying to each other, “We’re not getting any younger,  you know.” Perhaps they silently wonder if the tradition will continue after their gone. They do not do this work for the money, but because the love and care for each other. Their fellowship is the big pay-off.
    It’s the people who work in the restaurants or cater Christmas parties. Sure, they get paid to do it, but for many of them, their work is more than just money. They do it so others can have their fun and pleasure.  They love seeing smiles and happy faces; they live for someone who remembers to say ‘thank you.’
    Inevitably, at Christmas time we remember people who are not with us; people who had such a tremendous influence on our life when we were younger; and people who continue to make our life better.  It stings when we realize they are gone. I am grateful when they were with us, and we wished we had listened more closely to their stories. It is a reminder to hold our family members and friends a bit closer.
     The list goes on and on from there.
    While I am walking, I realize most of us have probably done our part to ‘make’ someone’s Christmas, too.  The one thing we all share in common is the sheer delight of that moment someone notices our efforts, smiles, and says thank you or gives us a few words of encouragement.  They pay-off for our shopping and wrapping is their smile of delight.
     Each year on Christmas afternoon or evening, I try to watch the Queen (now King’s) Christmas Speech from England.  This was the King’s first time carrying on a tradition that had been started by his grandfather. He made a point of emphasizing the supreme importance of the common bonds between organizations and people.  He also reminded his listeners of the invaluable role of faith communities as the glue which held civilization together. It takes all of us to make a better world.
      King Charles did not say it was the work done by any religious organization such as Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, or anything else. Rather it was the spirituality and compassion based on the teachings of nearly all the major and minor religions across the goal. We share them in common with those whose practices are different from our own.  Indeed, many of those who carry out these humanitarian efforts respond “no religion” when asked. Their philosophies make us better people.
     In our area, as is all too common around the nation and the world, politics and divisive philosophies are almost instantly set aside when there is an individual or group needs our help.  It is as if we say, “Someone needs our help; let’s get to work.”  We don’t ask if the person working with us is a member our political party,  our religion, or our world-view on any topics.  Someone needs a hand; let’s go do something useful, and no questions asked.
     The King is on to something in this message of our connectedness and compassion. Despite all of the angry and negative political advertisements, and all of the bitterness and battle about how to handle the challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic,  and almost everything else,  you and I find there is more that connects us than divides us.  The problem is that it is just too easy to gallop off to the negative side of almost everything.
     The wonderful gift of the latter part of December is that hard on the heels of that extra dose of compassion and kindness of Christmas comes New Year’s Day. Many of us reflect over that inner warmth and goodness we feel at Christmas, but allow it dissipate after a few days.  They miss the chance to make an intentional change even before the beginning of the new year.
   Those who experience the joys of Christmas can become something of a rejuvenated Scrooge and ‘keep Christmas’ all year.  Near the end of the fable, Dickens writes that on Christmas Day as Scrooge walked around the very familiar streets of London he found, perhaps for the first time,  joys to be seen everywhere.
    That can be us – clinging to the joys we found just a few days ago, and then make a determined effort to find as many things as possible that we share with others. From there we intentionally build on the positives to the point dismiss the divisiveness.

Leave a Reply