Gen and I have been busy getting engaged and stuff, but in a preview of our (my?) New Year’s Resolution to post on MC more than once every four months, here’s a short Christmas essay called “December 22, 2011.”
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours.
Three days before Christmas is not a good time to be driving around southern New Jersey – or any other suburban place, surely, where the ratio of people to malls is alarmingly small.
Routes 38, 70, 130, 73, 42, 41, 295, 76, 676, 168, and 30 were jam-packed this morning, even after rush hour. I know this because I sat on most of them, and heard about the other one or two on the radio.
Then, three things in succession destroyed any scintilla of Christmas cheer that had survived the highways:
1) The shopping center parking lots, which represent the very worst in civil engineering, especially in terms of stop-sign placement or lack thereof, and can inspire me, an otherwise not-maniacal person, to be anything but civil; and
2) The hour of waiting around in Target for a specific employee to show up, who is for some unintelligible reason the only person authorized to turn on a certain computer, punch a few keys, and facilitate a cell-phone trade-in; and
3) The impish 12-year old with a winter hat on indoors and cartoon headphones on his t-shirt who, encouraged by his mother, loudly cut in front of me while I politely waited for the finally-arriving staff member to get settled at his kiosk. The kid’s mom, whose name I committed to memory as if I would track her down someday and TP her front lawn out of spite, forgot her ID in the car, which she needed to show the employee (whose droopy eyes and speed of movement were reminiscent of Eeyore) in order to finish the deal. This required them to walk to the parking lot from the back of the store, pick up the license, and return to the electronics section, during which time the employee was unable to process my request, because what computer this day and age can do two things at once?
Before you roll your eyes, I admit it: this is an especially ugly litany of first-world complaining, and it probably served me right for heading into Cherry Hill on December 22nd in the first place.
I’m conscious enough of this ugliness to be embarrassed that it felt so good to summon up the day’s fading frustrations for this writing. I bore the minor inconveniences as they happened with a series of weak smiles, but now I can fight back! With karate chops of prose!
But typing a few short paragraphs angrily that my big-box nemeses will never read is not the noble act of cosmic justice I wish it were. So this needs a quick change in tone if there’s any shot at redemption for us, we the complainers and the line-jumpers and the weary employees and the parking-lot ragers:
On my way back to the apartment, the neighborhood streets were narrowed to one lane by vehicles parked on both sides. I barreled down them with regard for nothing but getting the hell out of the car. Soon enough, of course, I cut off someone approaching from the other direction who had the right of way– an old man in a beat-up painter’s van.
He pulled to the side and let me pass. Sheepishly, I waved an apology.
Smiling, he waved back.
Then I smiled, too, and a great Jayhawks song came on the radio. The outside temperature gauge read 61, so I rolled down the windows – on the winter solstice! – and sang my way home.
That fellow traveler’s injection of a bit of good will into the universe made up for the whole damn sorry lot of us. The day’s crowded busyness could not have been any more enjoyable for him than it was for me, but something moved that man to raise five fingers and smile instead of the singular middle one and glare.
I’ll consider the moment a teensy Christmas miracle. Because whenever a sign of generosity invites us to stop blindly consuming and recognize good in another person, we encounter the same truth that was revealed in the Christ child’s birth in a dark world 2000 years ago: that despite conditions insisting otherwise, not all is lost.