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After a certain age, favorite holiday memories tend to meld into tales too good to be true. This is human nature. We want to believe we’re better than the evidence suggests. This is a good habit of our species, especially at the end of this year, in which we’ve seen so much of the worst in us.
There is no such thing as perfection whenever we add memories of past holiday experiences to the combustible mix of family and friends. Add booze and a couple of sturdy grudges and “Grey Gardens” has nothing over the drama unfolding in front of us as we shake our heads.
Nevertheless, with the passage of time, we will yet again enshrine these get-togethers as something magical. This speaks to something good in us. Most of us want to be people who love people, so we manage the willpower to love even the people who get on our last nerve. Which at least one of them surely will; we just know it.
You will note that I am laying blame elsewhere for all that might annoy us this holiday season. I employ this nifty trick of memory so that, at least for the duration of this column, we can all feel superior and terribly misunderstood. My gift to you. Merry Christmas, if you celebrate. Otherwise: Happy Solstice Week. Be sure to look out the window tomorrow morning. Already, the darkness is ending a teensy bit sooner.
This has been a rough year in our lives, even if we harbor no personal grievance because of what is churning out there all around us. Just this once, let’s not rattle off the list. Many of us will continue to stake out our own little patches of righteousness, but this is the time of year when we should at least try to acknowledge the truth of the matter: We are all in this together.
Former astronaut John Glenn, a dear friend, once described for me what it was like to hover 150 miles above the Earth and get a good look at the rest of us:
“On a map, every nation has a different color,” he said. “Well, the Earth looks much different from space. You realize our borders are so artificial. Some are political; some have developed along ethnic lines. But all those lines disappear when you’re looking down from space. And you can’t help but see all that we have in common and think about how much we foul things up by focusing on our differences rather than our sameness.”
I don’t expect us to link arms and sing to the heavens. For one thing, there’d be that unpleasant argument over which version of heaven and another over whose version of God would be listening. And that’s just among the believers.
Instead, I ask that, in the spirit of the season, we pause to consider what we still have in common with one another. It’s there, in every single person we can imagine.
I know, I know. Work through the wince. Breathe.
Three days before Christmas, I was about to start dinner, when my friend Jackie called. She and her wife, Kate, live just down the street.
“Go to the Square,” she said.
“Why?” I asked as I shut off the burner.
“I’m not telling you. Just go — and bring your camera.”
My husband and I threw on our jackets and began the short walk to the community park that greets everyone who enters our neighborhood in Cleveland.
Dozens of luminarias flickered on the ground around the gazebo. Two deer ventured forth as we walked among the lights and offered nods to the fat moon competing for attention.
I loved watching neighbors pulling in to the development after a long day at work and slowing their cars to a crawl to take in the sight of this unexpected kindness. I have no idea which neighbors made the effort to do this, but I know we need more people like them. I am grateful for the reminder that small gestures can ignite big hopes and that there are many ways to light the darkness.
To those who don’t celebrate Christmas, thank you for putting up with those of us who do. If you are struggling right now, may the holiday land gently.
Off we go, into the new year, where each of us will have the chance to do better.
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