The people you know at Christmastime
I was still in my pajamas late this morning when the doorbell rang. Unshaven, unshowered, and a bit of a melancholy mess, I thought, “I’m not going to answer that.” I was in no condition to see anyone.
But then I found myself getting up and looking out the window. I recognized the truck. It belonged to a friend who for the past several years has dropped off an amazing homemade Danish as a Christmas gift.
I ran out in the rain and caught my friend and his wife before they drove off. He got out of the truck, gave me a hug, and wished me a Merry Christmas. I hadn’t seen him in months, and yet he still took the time to drop by. As an introverted guy, I hate drop-ins, but today’s visit made me happy.
I sat alone for an hour or so after he left thinking about the people I know who I won’t see this Christmas. They’re people who—even if they don’t know it—are a part of my daily life, people whose spirit and toughness get me through the rough patches, people I don’t tell enough how much they mean to me.
I took my son to lunch, and as we sat shoving meat in our faces, I looked around the restaurant at a bunch of folks I didn’t know. Every time somebody’s eyes met mine, I wondered who they were thinking about today. I wondered if they had the holiday blues. I wondered if they were missing somebody. I wondered what made them cry and who made them smile. I did the same thing when I was at the local holiday lights festival this week as hundreds of anonymous cars wove up the decorated mountainside. Each driver sat in a dark car with his headlights off, each lost in his own thoughts.
The more I thought, I realized there is a certain emotion that comes up around this time of year, one that—like the death of a loved one—feels unique but is likely something close to universal. That is, I realized how likely it is you know the same people I do. Maybe not exactly the same people, of course, but the people they represent.
The old high school friend who is fighting cancer
The friend who lost her job just before the holidays
The friend who has spent months in constant, debilitating pain
The friend who trusts you enough to tell you the things that scare you the most
The family that is thousands of miles from home spending the holidays without the rest of their friends and relatives
The friends whose lives have been torn apart by circumstances beyond their control
The friend battling depression and fighting to put on a brave face
The friend who is caring for her sick mother and scared she is going to lose her
The people who only need a little notice to drop everything else and meet you somewhere for a few cocktails and lot of laughs
The brother or sister you can call a best friend
The single mom who is teaching her children to live in America for the first time
The friends who unexpectedly lost their mom
The friends you grew up with that you never see anymore
The people who know the things that make you exactly happy and go out of their way to make those things happen
The friend whose illness got the better of him this year
The friends who create art that breaks your heart, makes you laugh, and fills you up with the kind of joy you can barely stand
The friend who took the giant career leap he’d always wanted to make and stuck the landing
The people who can’t make any plans beyond today because tomorrow could turn everything upside down
Or, more succinctly, the people who make up our real lives. Not the public lives we live on Facebook. Not the private lives we only think about when the lights are off and we can’t sleep. Real life. Every bit of it. Terrible and wonderful. Joyous and painful. All of it real, all of it who we are.
I’ve got a ridiculously easy life. I make it a point to remind myself of that every day. More and more, though, I find myself thinking less about how easy my life is, and more about how tough this week must be for many of the people I love.
All at once, I wanted to drop in on every one of those people, give them a hug, and tell them Merry Christmas.
I wanted to tell them thank you. I wanted to tell them I’m sorry. I wanted to tell them how important they are to who I am and who I want to be.
If you’re reading this, there is a very good chance you’re one of those people. So, thank you. I’m sorry. You help make me who I am and who I want to be.
My only Christmas wish is that you take the time today to think about the people who make up your real life. Think about the people who inspire you, make you love, teach you toughness, and bring you joy. Then, in whatever small way you can, celebrate the fact those people exist. You don’t even have to let them know if you don’t feel like it. Just recognize it in your own head and heart. If you’re anything like me, it will bring you a certain peace you won’t be able to find anywhere else.
Merry Christmas, everybody. Happy Hanukkah. Happy Kwanza. Happy Holidays.
And thank you for being you.