This bright and sunny morning, a little sparkly new snow on the ground, Christmas music playing in the background, hot coffee at the ready, this is the Montana Christmas I dearly love. Am getting my Christmas fix now so when I go to Seattle I’ll have already had “my kind of Christmas.” For me, this season here in Montana is incredibly rich, deep and fulfilling. In the end it shoots me into the coming year with hope and positive intentions to make the lives of those around me happier and better, if possible. I know it’s a little mundane, but I’ve found that over the years it’s one of the main things that makes me tick… perhaps keeps me ticking. Whatever, at this stage of life we ought to be able to do some things our way. For me, this is one of them, and a major one.
I would like to think that many of us don’t need a special season to remind us of the importance of friendship, fellowship, kindness and thoughtfulness to others. But it’s for damn sure the rest of the world outside of ours certainly seems to need it. And even then it’s not working, except as a remarkable marketing agent. Ah well…
My B is off in New York City with her pal Michelle, enjoying Times Square, Rockefeller Center and, of course, Macy’s. She texts me that “It’s fabulous!” I believe her. She’s been to many of the major cities of the world, and knows fabulous when she sees it or feels it. Hell, during my college years I thought Boston was fairly fabulous around Christmas time. For all my curious late-in-life phobias about big cities, I often found myself humming Christmas carols aloud in those deep Boston Christmas evenings, crunching along on the snowy sidewalks, looking in the bright shop windows, sometimes hearing the music coming from within. The Christmas spirit was there, for sure… for me, anyway, and I’ve never been a pushover in that regard. No, wait… maybe I have.
In my later years I finally began having to work at getting the old Christmas spirit and cheer going at the level I’d always expected. What level might that be, you ask? Why, going about with a small, silly shit-eating grin on my face, slightly watery of eye, the tune of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” on my tongue and a spark of love, respect and genuine good will toward everyone I ran into during the season. Maudlin, you say? Hyper-sensitive, goofy… well sure! All that. We’re all different… as I said earlier, that’s what makes me tick, keeps me ticking.
It used to be that Christmas time was a time when our general feelings of good will toward each other was fueled by each other, along with Christmas music on the radios, twinkly lights on our trees, and a jolly “Merry Christmas” from anyone you ran into at the store or post office. It seems that the season brought about a larger perception of ourselves as being a part of all humanity rather than just our own small families… that we somehow, together, got this temporary broader view of ourselves, in the great scheme of things, and that we were, by golly, all in this together. Given the wonderful Christmas music, which seems to always bring with it “the hope that springs eternal” along with the smell of pine wafting through the living room, the colorful lights… even the promise of gifts from loved ones, and special times shared with them… these elements seemed to somehow temporarily glue us back to where I thought we should have always been in the first place!
Is Christmas still like that? Was it ever like that for you? Is it still, then, even a little bit, like that? See, in the ’90’s I began a serious study of Buddhism. There was a Buddhist Center in Atlanta and the opportunity to learn about it was nearly effortless… and so I did. It got serious after awhile, and in time I received the empowerment of compassion from the monks there. Well, it changed everything. It changed my perception of life, and of what really matters. It even changed my perception of Christmas. Suddenly the pressure put on my Christmas to be this really special time was off… and I could now enjoy it even more. And I have.
Am I now a devout Buddhist? Hell no. The reason I even share this with you is because their teachings and the empowerment I received gave me Christmas all year long. Not the watery-eyed, carol-on-the-lips kind, but that wonderful overview of how we’re all in this together, and that the better, kinder and more respectfully we treat each other, the better it is for all of us. Seems awfully damned simple, doesn’t it? But obviously it isn’t. Seems that these days we can’t even do it very well during the season that was designed (originally) to promote it. Too bad. And this is what we call “progress.” Over the years we’ve allowed Madison Avenue to dictate to us the meaning of Christmas, and we’re much the worse for it.
Nature’s beauty is a gift that cultivates appreciation and gratitude.
Out here in the sagebrush and pine, however, things are different… and better. Not so much emphasis on the marketing and gifting aspect of the season, more of getting together, eating and drinking together, sharing thoughts and dreams of the coming year. Simpler, perhaps more genuine… and I love it.
Back in 1981, I attended our Episcopal church’s Christmas Eve candlelight service, which I did many times over the years. Always beautiful, always special. The memory of that particular year is so clear to me now, all because of a simple thing that happened. While leaving the church after the service, I was obliged to help an elderly lady, my dear friend Selma Brook, down the slick and snowy stairs leading to the street. She gripped my arm as we carefully made our way down. When we got to the sidewalk we stopped for a moment to take in the evening. It was snowing lightly, and in the streetlight across the way the snow and frost sparkled in its beam. The cold air pinched at our noses, the last carol from inside the church wafted out past us into the chilly night. There was a magic about it all, and Selma, still holding on to my arm, felt it, as I did. I remember she looked up at me and said, “Stevie, don’t you think that Virginia City is the just best place to be at Christmas time?”
Oh yes, Selma, I do. I did then, and I still do, to this day.