Sunday, December 13, 2015

We are all related

Christmas is a time when generations come together. They get packed into one room and inevitably one of the older ones, perhaps the oldest one, has some story to tell or something they want to show one of the younger ones. This has all the potential for being a completely useless interaction, something that is suffered through, not just by the two who are actually participating in it but even those around them, those who have to hear it. There is a way to make this worthwhile, and, yes, I’m writing a story about how to save Christmas.

This year, my wife made ornaments. She learned how to do it with friends. It involved a Styrofoam ball and fabric and pins and it’s very intricate and she is very precise and she loves doing it and she loves doing it well. She sent them off to my aunts and uncles and to hers’ and more importantly to the children and grandchildren of some of those relations. Hopefully they see the significance of them, but odds are they won’t.  And hopefully we get that chance one day to visit them during the holidays and that ornament will be out and we’ll talk about it, rather than the weather or whatever horrible news is going on.

And somewhere in there, some tiny bit of wisdom will be shared. It will sound trite or canned at the time, but many Christmases later, that young person will be the old one, and they’ll be worried about that younger generation and how they don’t look things up on the internet anymore, or that they don’t know what it took to end poverty and how they don’t appreciate it and they’ll think “kids today…”, and they’ll try to figure out a story to tell and they won’t have one that is any better than the one about making Christmas ornaments.

It might be a different story about something else, about making soup and how all the ingredients mix to make it just right or something. It doesn’t matter because you can’t explain being old. You can’t explain what it means to earn your gray hair or your wrinkled skin. What matters is that those feelings, those intentions, were put into the project, the recipe or the story. You don’t need to know the whole story to see when that kind of care has gone into making something.

You’re going to get that gray hair and wrinkled skin either way, so you might as well earn it, but you’re not going to know what goes into getting them until you have them. Sorry, young people, your role in this is not that exciting. You get to do all those exciting things that young people do together, those things that would end up with a broken hip for us. Listening to grandma on Christmas is probably not on the top of your list. So, here’s the secret, that grandma had a whole bunch of Christmases before you were even born.

So, when she’s showing you something that doesn’t seem that interesting and telling that lame story, she’s looking at you and she doesn’t just see your nose and your hair. She sees your mother’s face and hears your uncle’s voice coming from you and she remembers a smell from some far off kitchen and hears an owl in the woods and she sees a long horizon across a windswept plain. It’s all related. We are all related. The only way to discover that is to live long enough and be conscious enough and to notice it while it’s happening. You can watch a movie, or sit there with your headphones on listening to music, but those are storytellers too and they are trying to get out the same kind of messages. For me, there is no better way to hear a story than from someone close to you.

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