(Photo: Kate Mereand / Flickr)
It's snowing in Boston, finally. Yes, you heard me: finally. The rest of the country has been getting creamed lately - the Metrodome roof caved in, and Syracuse is all but buried - but until yesterday, we here haven't had so much as a flake. I've never been much of a summer person; heat and humidity tend to turn me into a useless gob of, well, uselessness. Spring is nice, but around here it has made a generational habit of lasting 0.0000031 days before the heat hammer comes down. Autumn is, of course, the World Heavyweight Champion of Seasonal Awesome, but again, it never seems to last nearly long enough.
Give me winter. Give me cold wind and snowstorms, bare branches wrapped in white, pink noses and boots and big coats with lots of pockets. You can dress for the cold. You can't dress for the heat. At least, I can't; I could go around in high August wearing nothing more than a handkerchief and a prayer, and I would still be dying a slow, sweaty death. Hat, sweater, coat, gloves, boots, a positive attitude and a love for not sweating through your clothes...yeah, give me winter any old time.
When I lived downtown and my bar was only a few blocks away, the best nights I can remember always came during blizzards; the regulars would wrap up and slog through the drifts until we staggered into the warmth, put our dripping boots on the rail and our fists around our mugs, and watched the world turn white outside. Kevin Spacey the actor came in one of those snowbound nights - he was in town filming "21" - and I got to lift a toast to Keyser Freakin' Soze. Beat that with a stick.
And, yes, give me Christmas, with all the attendant mayhem, crowds, expense, travel, family bedlam and the ceaseless, intolerable, inescapable music. Oh, God, the music. When I was sixteen, I got a job at Filene's in order to raise money for Christmas presents; it was my second job at the time (my third, actually, if you count the golf course gig I had, but there isn't much to do on a golf course in winter, and they didn't pay me to go sledding), but I found myself coming up short. They put me in the Men's Underwear section, which was bad enough, but my station was right below a ceiling speaker that played insipid Christmas music on a 45-minute loop...for the entire ten hours of each of my shifts. To this day, I cannot hear "Feliz Navidad (ba da da da daah)" without feeling the almost overwhelming desire to start firebombing.
Even worse was The Sock. These kinds of things are common now; you've seen them in any number of stores, those little novelty hats, cups, mounted fish, or whatever that play a song when you press a button. Well, back in 1987, these Devices Of Satan were just coming out, and the store arrangers put one of the earliest prototypes five feet away from where I had to stand. It was a sock decorated with Santa, his reindeer, a microchip and a button, and they slipped it over a mannequin foot and propped it up on a stand...next to my station. Press the button, and the sock would play "Jingle Bells" for five straight minutes, like this: "DEE DEE DEE, DEE DEE DEE, DEE DEE DEE DEE DEE," louder than a damned firebell. The customers who pushed the button would titter and say, "How cute!" and then walk away ten seconds later. I would have to listen to the whole beeping horror show until it stopped...and two minutes later, another customer would come over, push the button - "DEE DEE DEE, DEE DEE DEE, DEE DEE DEE DEE DEE" - say "How cute!" and walk away ten seconds later, leaving me in this Hell of Beeping, surrounded by underwear, writhing in rage and despair.
My wife works in a large retail store, and has to deal with Christmas music starting the day after Thanksgiving. If I hate it, she loathes it with the fire of a million supernovas. Whenever a commercial comes on the TV or the radio with Christmas music involved, I have to dive for the volume button before she starts destroying things with her shoe. No lie, she turns into a ravening werewolf, and I don't blame her. The Sock nearly sent me on a tri-state killing spree, so I definitely feel her pain.
Selah...into every life, some rain must fall. Christmas music is a small price to pay for the rest of the package this time of year. Shopping amidst the madding crowds sucks large rocks, to be sure, but being able to give something special to those you love is well worth it. Before the weekend is out, I will have seen my mother, my wife's parents, my wife's brother and his new wife, my wife's whole extended family, and all of it with my wife at my side. We will eat, we will drink, we will be merry, and if the weather guys have it right, we will do it all surrounded by the first White Christmas I have seen in many a year.
I know how lucky I am to be able to think this way. There are millions of people in this country who will not have any measure of joy this Christmas. Winter means high heat bills they cannot afford, presents for their children they cannot afford to buy, it means want and sadness, and for the families of soldiers deployed to fight our seemingly endless wars, it will mean another year with an empty seat at the table. For those families who have lost a soldier to those wars, that emptiness will linger forever.
If you are as lucky as I am, remember those who are not. Give what you can, if you can, and keep your fellow citizens in mind and heart. Before Santa and presents and shopping and all the attendant Christmas bullshit got involved, this holiday was enshrined to commemorate a guy who got nailed to a tree for daring to tell people to be kind to one another. If you have two cloaks, He said, give one away. Remember those who have less than you, be charitable, be good, be merciful.
I'm not tremendously religious by any measurable standard, but the guy who got nailed to that tree had some deeply valid points to make, and if you believe what you read, He was murdered for trying to tell people about it. Emperor Constantine stole December 25th from his Pagan political opponents in a power consolidation move, so even if you believe in the existence of the guy who got nailed to that tree, you won't be celebrating His birth on the 25th...but that guy had some good things to say, regardless of the garbled historical record, and if you can cut through the nonsense and bedlam of this season, those lessons are well worth remembering, especially in a year when the rest of us got royally screwed so rich people could get fat tax breaks they don't need.
If you have two cloaks, give one away. Someone might even call that "socialism." But it is winter, after all, and the snow has begun to fall, and there are a lot of people who need those cloaks. Remember them.
Take care. Enjoy the snow.
Help someone if you can. Hold close to you who and what you love.
Be fiercely present in these mad days, to whatever extent is reasonable for you.
Remember what we can do, together, if we lean in to the task.
This is all I want for Christmas:
Lean in. Lean hard.
You won't be alone.