January 10, 2007
Another One Bites the Dust
Glad they're over, aren't you? Those so-called 'holidays' with all the pressure to buy and give and travel and laugh it up . . . hum-bug! I think I've figured out where it all goes awry: it's the presumption that everything has to be perfect.
Where does perfection exist, anyway, and does it come around every year tied up with a big red bow? We're setting ourselves up for a fall with those kinds of expectations. When the tree starts to wilt and the turkey is a picked over carcass, the old mood swings start to head south. What do you expect? Did you know the Ancient Greeks actually built imperfections into the Parthenon? They knew that things weren't meant to be flawless — that was like flying in the face of The Gods.
We're being programmed to demand too much of ourselves this time of year. So, naturally, when the $400 bathrobe itches and the needlepoint slippers don't fit, our emotions are as pinched as our feet. When the New Year blues come a callin', try to think back to a time when you were young and carefree. A point in your life when a bicycle or a baseball glove was all it took to send you over the moon with joy. Or back in your lean college years when a friend knitted you a scarf (rather lumpy and knotted-off with pieces of yarn going everywhere, albeit) and you were so touched you wore that thing until it fell to bits.
I know a man who still has a birthday sweater his high school girlfriend and prom date knitted for him in the 1970s. You can't imagine that he was ever that small, nor does it make sense that this tough-as-nails corporate attorney would have such a sentimental side. But he and his ex-cheerleader still exchange Christmas cards 30 years later. And he can still dig into his bottom dresser drawer and, with great pride, show you that tattered, oddly orange-colored tangle of strings. It's got to be the best gift anyone ever gave him.
It has become a lucky talisman in his life. It takes him back to a very happy place every time he lays eyes on it. And it must have cost the giver about $10 and two hours to make it. He's been married to a succession of rather splashy and voluptuous women over the last 30 years, but none of them made anything for him — except trouble.
Everyone jokes about those tinned fruitcakes that make the rounds seasonally. A family in Montauk keeps sending the same one over and over again to different members of the clan as a joke. Supposedly, a dozen or so years ago, a rather stingy aunt was the original source of this circular contrivance of brown sugar, candied fruits and lead. She's long since gone to her reward, as they say, but this unsavory turkey of a gift lives on and gives riotous pleasure to the younger generations. Whoever receives it at Thanksgiving time is responsible for planning a holiday dinner for all who can attend. He or she then figures out a way to re-wrap it, disguise it and send it along to another. Again, no big money is involved, but lots of fun is always had by all.
The late Helen Hayes used to tell a wonderful story about the first time she met her future husband, playwright Charles MacArthur. They were at a posh party in New York and the largely unknown MacArthur, stage struck and shy, was finding it difficult to introduce himself to the stage star. Finally, in near desperation, he offered her a dish of peanuts. She took a handful and thanked him, and at that point he blurted out the over-the-top statement, "I wish they were emeralds!"
Decades later, for one of their milestone anniversaries, he gave Ms. Hayes a nut dish containing an emerald necklace and a note saying, "I wish we were young again and these were peanuts!" So relax everyone and Happy New Year. Now that the pressure is off, the really good stuff will start to happen.