Many will have dreamed of a White Christmas this year. I dreamed of one like I used to know. It was the wonderful dream of a tree decorated with scores of lights and ornaments and tinsel, topped by a star. Underneath, a wave of presents looking like a wheat field waited for our anxious hands to tear the wrapping off and discover the treasure within.
There, the five of us (mom, dad, sister, brother, and me), opened presents at four or five in the morning, whenever my sister woke up, and enjoyed each other's company. Even while living on my own in the Jack in the Box days, I'd stay either stay over or, more likely, come after closing the place down.
I even remember the last present I gave my father, tickets to the Cowboy playoff game. Christmas 1978.
He took my brother.
Dallas beat the Atlanta Falcons 27-20 on December 30. They went to the Super Bowl that year, losing to Pittsburgh 35-30.
Starting the year after my father died, Christmas's changed. Not the loot portion. Neither of my parents received much when they were young due to depression finances so they took it out on their kids with extravagance. My mom became even more lush without anyone to check her, but something else changed. The spirituality of the season left never to return, so my brother, sister and I clung to what was left ... the packages. Since my mom wasn't particularly demonstrative in handing out affection, we took what we could get.
There's something obscene in having a thirty-five year old, a thirty-one year old, and a twenty-six year old all still getting presents from Santa Claus, but my mom insisted at a certain point in Christmas preparations up until that time that all three of us go to bed while she finished up ... before Santa came. And she would get mad when we told her that if there any heavy lifting to get me or my brother. No, she said. Santa would take care of it. And she determined to spend to the penny the same amount on each of us. She even apologized to me one year for spending five dollars less on me than my siblings. Five bucks out of three thousand.
Did it occur to us at the time that something was dreadfully wrong here? No it didn't, because the loot was the loot, and Christmas morning was all about the loot. It would take a level of maturity our mother took great pains to check for us to refuse to accept so much.
About the adage, "'Tis better to give than receive," my sister expressed our attitudes perfectly by saying, "That's true. But if someone gives, someone has to receive. That might as well be us."
I laughed, having nothing more than a vague idea just how wrong these Christmas's were, that my mother was trying her damndest to buy our love when we should have reassured her, letting her know that she didn't have to go into debt at Christmas. But hey, the loot was the loot wasn't it?
I tried so hard to find something more, like attending midnight mass, saying the rosary, whatever ... but looking back, it was cold on Christmas morning, even if the outside temperature was in the seventies.
My mom died the night before Thanksgiving 2000, and Christmas changed again, becoming about me and my sister. I would spend some of it with her and her husband, then with her alone when he left her, and would visit other friends as well. I did find a measure of spirituality but didn't really appreciate it, didn't really understand the dynamic of it or of my life for that matter.
My sister died six days before Christmas in 2006, and the day then became no more relevant to me than President's Day. I spend it with wonderful friends and have dinner and conversations and even present exchanges, but try as I will, I can't seem to find the magic anymore.
It's not there.
I wonder now if it ever was.
It wasn't there this year, either, though my friends Aaron and Jill were gracious enough to cheerfully have me over again. I am most grateful.
But something has become clear now.
Thanksgiving and Christmas have lost their meanings for me and I have to find them again.
It goes beyond that though. I've lost my way through life. I had a long conversation with a mentor at work, and damn, at the tender age of fifty-three I still have very little confidence in myself as a person. She obviously hasn't been the only person to have noticed, though I thought I was brilliant at hiding it.
Well, actually that's not quite true. There have been times in my life when I've had far more confidence in myself than now. Never as much as I would like, but certainly more than now.
Which begs the question, how do I get it? Or how do I get it back?
Books have been written on the subject, but it's not books that are going to get me through this unless ... unless they are mine. :-).
A friend of mine told me not long ago that I changed after mom died, and then again after my sister died and not all of the change was good. Those things I can't see, but I'm feeling that he's right. And if he is, then have I wasted more than ten years of my life?
No. I've already had that pity party. I'm not going to have it again.
But, factually, I allowed myself to be controlled by my mother from the beginning of time. She, herself, was so scared that she couldn't be loved that she spend years trying to buy the love of people, her mom, me and my siblings, and even friends. She had no concept that people could love her just because she was a good person.
So, she dangled the carrot and I jumped. That cost me a marriage, and whatever self-confidence I may have developed. Okay. That's done and over with.
So, what steps do I need to take now?
Well, I need to lose weight and finish Catch a Falling Star. No doubt. But I'm thinking that those will have to be by products of a more confident me. So I can't use those as crutches. In reality, they are the symptoms.
Okay. Fair enough. So what do I do? How do I gain self-confidence? Don't I have to have at least a measure of success to be confident? I haven't yet had success as a writer, less than zero success in relationships since I haven't really had many ... but I'm a friend and am blessed with a number of friends!
Let's start there, shall we? That resonates. I'm a friend and am blessed with a number of wonderful friends.
You know something? I'm writing this part Christmas Eve. I'm going to pause a while to watch It's a Wonderful Life, so let me do that and I'll be back next paragraph.
And here I am. Can anyone watch that movie without crying? I sure-as-hell can't. And the only reason it played this evening on my television was tradition. Since I first saw it, I haven't missed a year seeing it, so I thought to just put it on as background so as to claim that I watched it another year even if I really didn't "watch" it. Couldn't do that, though. Not at all. Like reading nearly 900 pages to read Agnes telling David Copperfield, "I've loved you all my life," ... the most emotional line I've ever read in fiction ... I had to see the buildup to Clarence getting his wings.
What a marvelous character actor Henry Travers was!
Anyway, back to my introspection. It's impossible to gain confidence without success, isn't it? Even George Bailey in the story had to face that. Of course, George had amazing success that he didn't see. He just had to be shown the difference he made in the world.
So where to start? It's going to sound trite, and sentimental, and stupid, but I have to start each day by looking in the mirror and finding a way to like the guy looking back.
The dude I see there now is one selfish son-of-a-bitch and has been for a mighty long time. That's pretty harsh, but true. So I have to start by looking past that and into the good parts. They are there. I know they are. From time to time they just sort of jump out and announce themselves briefly before returning to the safety my heart's cellar.
My friends can see those good parts from time to time. I have to look with better eyes. And, well, I have to start another Christmas tradition, someway, somehow. Too late for this year, but I can certainly spend this next year considering just how to do that. A possibility occurred.
Prior to the publication of a particular work of literature, Christmas was a time for revelry and celebration. Lord knows I've been through those times, haven't I? But from the time of this particular work of literature, the emphasis has shifted to giving, particularly to the poor.
That particular work of literature? You know it. It's pictured above. It's, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens published December 19, 1843. Then came the popular carol, "Good King Wenceslas" in 1853, about a king bringing meat and drink to the poor.
And the last line of that song is, "Ye who now shall bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing."
Wow. So what do I do? I'll start greeting the dude I see in the mirror every morning like my best friend in the world. Every morning. Right now, that's the poor guy I need to bless. Dude? Guy? How about man? Never have I been comfortable referring to myself as a "man," or being referred to as a "man."
That's telling, too.
I have a lot of work to do, but it's not too late. Not at all, and there is still time to make progress before San Francisco.
It's now Christmas morning, and I feel good. I've taken a step. And I suspect that if I can somehow develop some measure of confidence, then other good things will fall into place.
Including finding my way to help the real poor.
See y'all next week.