Sometimes I think I’m really two people. One part of me is relentlessly pragmatic, reasonable and logical. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, except when it gets in the way of the magic that can be found in everyday life. The confounding counterpart to this is that another part of me is just as relentlessly sentimental, emotional and hopeful.
Here’s an example. I can’t read an email that cries out for help regarding a lost child without immediately hopping onto Snopes.com to check it out. (They’re always fake, by the way.) I also find myself reading emails that contain heartwarming stories of love, fellowship and encouragement; the kind people often send to friends and family with the best intentions. Deep down, I’m glad they include me in their list of those who will enjoy the story; they’re mostly right about that. Yet even as I read it, I think (in my logical way), do I have time for this today? I have sit on mute for back-to-back conference calls! I have to create two more Powerpoints today!! I have to work out a P / L by ten a.m.! God knows I’d rarely seek these things out on my own.
That’s why when I read a holiday story a few days ago, I couldn’t imagine why I stopped on it in the first place. I had little doubt I’d be left wallowing in sappy Christmas schmaltz. Without going into every detail, the story told of a young boy who comes to understand the spirit of Christmas. In an effort to prove that Santa Claus is real, his grandmother gives him ten dollars and drives him to a store, telling him “to buy something for someone who needs it.” After much thought, the boy decides to buy a coat for a classmate who doesn’t have one. (All of these stories paint a picture of someone who is sad, alone and needy or someone dead or dying, along with someone who steps in to help. Sorry; that’s an editorial comment from my reasonable side. In this case, the student in need never joins his class in recess because he doesn’t own a heavy coat. He pretends to have a cough so he has an excuse to stay indoors. )
The young boy chooses a jacket and takes it to the counter to buy it. When the clerk asks if it’s a present, he explains the story of his needy classmate. The clerk smiles as she puts it a bag and wishes him a Merry Christmas.
Your typical Christmas story, right? I probably don’t have to tell you that as the grandmother helps the boy wrap the coat, she removes the little tag and places it in her Bible. They hide the gift outside “Bobby’s” house, knock on the door, then watch him come outside and discover the package. The rest, as they say, is warm Christmas history.
Except it wasn’t. The story ends with the boy recalling that he still remembers the spirit he felt that day. As the author puts it, “Santa Claus was alive and well and we were on this team.” Fifty years later, he still had his grandmother’s Bible, and the Christmas coat’s price tag she tucked into it: $19.95.
The tears that filled my eyes when I read the ending of the story sprang directly from my sentimental side. I loved the quiet notion of sales clerk, seemingly just a bit player, turning out to embody the spirit this boy was seeking.
So where does that leave me, this Christmas Eve? My practical nature has me counting up the cookies I didn’t bake, the cards I haven’t written and the gifts I haven’t wrapped. The logical part of me is already making plans about how this absolutely will not happen again next year. I’m mentally writing a list of the list of things I won’t forget to do earlier next year so help me God.
And where does that leave the softness, the magic, this Christmas Eve? It’s buried, under layers of planners and errands and tasks. It pokes its head up from time to time: when I hear my boys sing Christmas Carols, or watch them decorate cookies and imagine them fifteen years younger, when their cookie icing and sprinkles were simply out of control.
Everything I want to give to those I love can’t be wrapped and placed under a tree. Mostly, I want to help them feel the spirit of Christmas. When our sons grow up, I want them to give in to sentiment, much more than I do. I want them to give up – at least temporarily - on the measurable. I want them to relinquish what’s practical from time to time.
I want them to pay the difference for the jacket.
That’s hope. That’s love. That’s Christmas.