(Disclaimer: I will use Christmas here as an overall reference to the late December holidays. If you celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanza or anything else, that's fantastic, please do apply the thoughts and points in this blog to yourself. It's just that I celebrate - in a very loose sense of the word - Christmas, so that's the holiday I'm going with. No discrimination meant here whatsoever.)
Okay, quick: when you think of Christmas, what comes to mind?
Admit it - immediately, just for a split second, you thought of gifts, didn't you? It's okay, most all of us do, it's natural, I think, in such a materialistic society (especially if you're an American, we can't help it).
But for most people, Christmas means time with family and friends - and for lots of people (myself included, during my stint living in Florida) friends are considered family.
But there are those traditional people, millions of them, who want to be surrounded by family at Christmas: whether that is blood-related family, those belonging to your spouse, or step-families, which is prevalent in the case of myself and The Dude: my step-mother's family is vast, far-flung, and yet near and dear and has treated us (and me, in particular) just as they do the rest of the family, despite the lack of actual blood relation. That's not always the case, and I am thankful for that.
So, what do you do if you no longer have any close family - blood, non-blood or otherwise? Is Christmas a time when, if you have no one else with whom you can celebrate, you can go to the home of a friend to visit on Christmas Day, and if so, should you be there during "Santa" time, or wait until later, after lunch maybe, and if so, what do you do with yourself until the point that you think it might be comfortable enough to visit with your friends?
These questions had never even been an issue for me until last year, when my mother's father died. It was heartbreaking after her mother died, but then her death was followed by my grandfather's and then my young cousin, just months after, in 2008. Now, as far as close family is concerned, my mother is left with her sister, whom... well, I won't get into that, but suffice it to say that my aunt has her own "family" that is a priority. I'm trying hard to be a good Southern girl, and you know what they say to do if you can't say something nice... Bless Her Heart.
I've told my mother, over and over, and my stepmother has told her, over and over, that she's more than welcome to spend Christmas morning with us, at my dad's, but understandably she's not quite comfortable with that. She and and my father had a less than amicable divorce, and although they now get along okay - they speak to each other, which was a feat thought insurmountable until we saw an ultrasound with The Dude's sharp profile - they are not exactly to that point of blending families. This, as I said, is understandable.
(Okay, so it's not really like that, but I've been waiting forever for an excuse to post that picture, and this was ideal.)
In an ideal world, Mom would whisk The Dude and myself away with her to Florida for Christmas and just skip the whole she-bang, but neither she nor I would do that to my son or my family. Which leaves me in the sticky spot of what to do, how to feel, and how tall of a wall to build around myself in order to not go completely insane worrying about her.
Which leads me to another point of worry, something that weighs on me like a stone in my pocket, something I return to nearly every day and rub, anxious, achy: the man I will call John, who lives in his van in the parking lot of the Burger King next door.
We've all come in contact with homeless people, and if you haven't you should consider yourself very, very lucky. I've encountered them all over the world - from London to San Francisco - and it never gets any easier. They're all different, of course, just as all people are different: some are quiet and almost dignified, some are so aggressive and persistent you could swear they were agents or ad salesmen in their previous lives. But they all have one thing in common: at night they are cold and almost always hungry - for one thing or another - and have no stable, loving environment in which to call home.
John has lived in the parking lot next door as long as I've worked here - well over two years now, and I know he's been here longer that that. He hangs out in Burger King, and the crew over there is nice enough to let him, give him coffee and, I suspect, food in exchange for odd jobs and "security" in the parking lot.
A long time ago the company I work for owned another newspaper that covered the Madison area, and it ran a weekly coupon for McDonalds, for a free something or other - a breakfast sandwich in the morning and a Big Mac in the afternoon. John would come over every day and get seven papers - one for each day, so he was at least guaranteed two meals a day, and take them to the McDonalds just down the street. We sold that paper four months after I started here, and he was devastated. I rummaged through our old papers and clipped out a folder full of the coupons for him, and the local McDonalds honored them. It fed him for almost a year.
Christmas is about family, and friends, and honoring what we are blessed with, not weighing what we have against what we don't, or what we need, or what we want.
I want a netbook, the surprised and delighted smile on my son's face, and happiness for my family.
My mother wants her parents back, serenity, and to be surrounded with love at all times.
John wants warmth, and food, and security.
What do you want for Christmas?