Spreading Holiday Joy - Now, and Throughout The Year



Albert Vetere Lannon




 
© Copyright 2018 by Albert Vetere Lannon




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In our world of never-ending war, of hatred and division, of cronyism and corruption, of mistrust and fear, the holiday season offers a chance to take a deep breath and let in the peace, joy and love that we crave and deserve.

For many, it is the joy of celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace; for others it is the act of selfless giving, or family gatherings, or decorating the tree, or the lighting up of holiday displays, or the wide-eyed happiness of children opening presents which just might have been delivered by Santa Claus. “‘Cause Mom, I heard the reindeer on the roof. I did!!”

In the avowedly atheist home I grew up in, Christmas was still a big deal. Mom and I shopped for a tree on Christmas Eve when New York Street vendors were slashing prices to sell off the ragged – but to us, beautiful -- last of their stock. Dad made a wonderful holiday lasagna with little meat balls. Friends came over to share drinks, fellowship and politics. My little sister and I got to stay up until midnight so we could open our presents.

Then we age, and we get caught up in the madness of politics, of racial, ethnic and gender prejudice, of the often harsh discipline of work and wage inadequacy, of a broken health care system. And we develop “conditions” that annoy us, like arthritis or job injuries or diabetes, that turn us inward, feeding the self-centeredness that seems to be the hallmark of America these days.

Or worse: we develop heart problems, or cancer, or COPD, or we just get old, and meeting friends we default to the geezer conversation, telling each other about our ills and pills. Sometimes we notice a spectacular sunset, but that seems to happen less and less. It doesn’t have to be that way. We have choices.

Joseph Campbell wrote: “We can’t cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.” We do have choices. And this holiday season I’ve noticed several choices made that spread joy.

I have multiple myeloma, an incurable blood plasma cancer that sucks the calcium out of my bones. It was diagnosed mid-2017 when I sneezed and broke two ribs. I am also approaching 81 with various other more-or- less serious afflictions. I’m a good candidate for that “default conversation” and I sometimes have it. But I do notice beautiful sunsets, and good books, and the wild critters we share space with out in rural Pima County. And the essential goodness of others. It helps that I am blessed with good union-negotiated health insurance.

Just before the holidays I was receiving my twice-weekly chemotherapy infusion when a woman with a shopping bag came into the room. In her 60s, she was handing out home-made holiday cards attached to red and white pipe-cleaner Christmas tree ornaments. All she said, was “Happy Holidays,” and moved on to the next patient. Perhaps she had lost someone to cancer, or was a survivor herself, or perhaps she was just moved to bring joy to us as we took the cancer-killing toxins into our bodies. Whatever the motivation, she was spreading joy in a place that could always sure use it.

When finished with that day’s chemo I waited in the reception room for my spouse, who was using the often-unpredictable time to run some errands, and a family of four came in. I don’t know who the patient was, but one of the four was a delightfully animated girl of three or four. Since my earlier gift had three little ornaments, I kept one and took the others over to ask the little girl’s mother if I could give them to her. Mom smiled and said, “Sure,” and her daughter made my day with a big grin. Spreading joy is contagious!

Some patients, some businesses, and some staff members bring in various snacks for us, cookies, crackers, protein shakes, setting them up on a long counter near a basket of knit hats donated for those who felt the need to cover up the loss of hair chemo can cause. One day there were four dozen Amy’s Donuts on the counter. That’s about $50 worth of the best and most varied donuts in the entire Southwest! Staff vaguely remembered somebody bringing them, but no one remembered who it might have been. Lucky us! And if you did it and might be reading this, thank you!!

On the drive home, along Picture Rocks Road in the middle of Saguaro National Park, we noticed that someone had carefully hung bright ornaments and ribbons on a roadside creosote bush, where headlights would catch the colors at night. There were even well-wrapped gift boxes under the “tree.” This is probably a violation of some government rule, but it hasn’t been torn down, and it brings a holiday smile to drivers passing by. No harm, no foul.

Spreading joy is contagious. My wonderfully supportive and helping spouse, Kait, is going through a bit of a rough patch, and I came up with the notion of using the Twelve Days of Christmas song as my inspiration, and started, well, twelve days before Christmas. Each morning there is a little more-or-less wrapped gift on the table, with a revised line from the song. Kait has a big snowperson collection and I add to it from time to time. She had recently wondered if any snowdogs were available. I found one online, but there was a glitch, and so what she got was this: On the first day of Christmas your true love gave to you/A snowdog escaped from the zoo/Except the deal fell through/So here’s an IOU.

It got tricky sometimes. I couldn’t find anything I could fit the number nine to, so I took nine roasted almonds (which she loves), put them in a sandwich bag and wrapped it. I don’t know who got more enjoyment out of the whole thing, her or me, but it made for both of us having fun.

Choosing joy, and spreading it around, is not easy these days. There is so much to be grumpy about, so it takes practice and a bit of discipline to make those choices. A number of recovery fellowships use a brief set of inspirational guidelines that seem to have come from England, called Just For Today. They are a good recipe for a joyful life, no matter what:
I especially like the fifth one down, and have the most trouble with the sixth. But, hey, nobody’s perfect!

In the languages me and Kait’s immigrant forebears brought with them: NOLLIAG SHONA, HYVÄÄ JOULUA, BUON NATALE, GOD JUL, GËZUAR  KRISHTLINDTJET,  LOTSHONNÓNNIA KI RATONNIÁ NE ! and (maybe) BUORIT  JUOVLLAT. All of which say HAPPY CHRISTMAS everyone, and best wishes for a less cantankerous New Year.

I grew up in the slums of New York, moved to San Francisco when I was 21, worked as a zoo keeper, painter, direct mail worker, warehouseman, union official and labor educator.  Developed an alcoholic taste for red wine and got sober in 1988.  Obtained my high school GED in 1989 and earned three degrees at San Francisco State University – BA, Labor Studies; BA, Interdisciplinary Creative Arts; MA, History.  Published two books of history, Second String Red, a scholarly biography of my communist father (Lexington, 1999), and Fight or Be Slaves, a history of the Oakland-East Bay labor movement (University Press of America, 2000).  Published stories, poetry, essays and reviews in a variety of “little” magazines over the years.  Never made any money from these so am well within your guidelines.

 
Retired to Tucson in 2001, won awards from the Arizona State Poetry Society and Society of Southwestern Authors.  Wrote for a dozen years for a community newsletter and several local free papers.


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