Okay, so Christmas.
It's been intimated around the office and on Facebook lately that I'm a Grinch or a Scrooge, that I lack Christmas Spirit and all that. And the thing is, it's absolutely not true. I love Christmas. I love the last wheezing gasps of the old year and the promise of the new. I love that there's all this lovely time off, that there's days and days of feasting ahead, the whole giving and receiving of gifts and good wishes. I love all the lights and the shopping (bah! humbug! on this online shopping thing – I need to see and feel the gifts I’m choosing for you) and the whole suspension of reality. It’s lovely and from mid-December onwards I’m capable of tearing up at the tiniest thing, sentimental fool that I am.
But the thing is, it can’t be forced. You can surround me with all your tinselly shit and good cheer at the office all you want, but until that mid-December moment comes, I just won’t feel Christmas. I have to wait, every year, until something triggers it for itself.
Last year it was the night my husband and I decorated our first Christmas tree together (we’d been married for 5 years but had never had a tree before because we feared what our border collie/lab mix dog would do to it in our absence) with all these wonderful old glass ornaments from his grandfather’s house. It was such a nice moment, and the house smelled so good, and the ornaments were such little nostalgia-globes, and I think we watched A Christmas Story afterwards and laughed, and maybe it snowed, and maybe I’d had a few too many glasses of cabernet, but whatever it was, that was the night I felt Christmas for 2008.
Well, tonight was the night I felt Christmas for the first time in 2009. And it’s all my sister’s fault.
My elder sister is mentally handicapped, which, for anyone reading this who has a handicapped relative or friend knows, is a situation that’s incredibly layered with emotion and meaning and good stuff and bad stuff and, just, stuff. Anyway, about once a month the two of us go out for dinner. Sometimes when I pick her up she’s had a bad day and is grumpy, but lately she’s been in fine form almost every time we have dinner. Tonight was no exception.
We sat in the crowded restaurant, chatting as we do on these evenings out about how busy or not busy the restaurant is, how things are in the house where she lives, about what she’s going to order (complete with the dessert that she promises to never tell our mother about, yet invariably does, so thrilled is she to have snookered me into buying her dessert when my parents never give in on that) until the waitress came to take our order. Looking up at the 20-year old server with bright eyes and a smile, my sister stuck her hand out and introduced herself to the girl, saying “Me, Andrea.”
(I always have this teeeensy moment of fear when my sister makes any sort of gesture to the outside world, when she breaks her focus away from me and reaches out to someone else. Because I never know what sort of reaction Andrea’s going to get and there’s nothing worse than to see someone recoil from her, as though she’s a monster of some sort. It’s a reaction that hurts, that ruffles all those layers of emotional stuff -- she’s as familiar to me as my own skin, how can she be a monster to others – that’s just so damned rude and yet what can you do. You can’t blame people for their instinctive reactions, that’s just who they are, just as my sister is just who she is.)
So, yes, I held my breath as my sister trustingly introduced herself to the young waitress. And I was richly rewarded as the girl, without missing a beat, laughed and put down her tray, shook hands with my sister and said “well, hello, I’m Michelle!”
And that was it. That was the moment when the whole Christmas spirit or whatever you want to call it started to trickle in. For Andrea, simple contact with non-handicapped people means a lot. I think it makes her feel like she belongs, like she’s less different. And, because of the way she is (in the sense that she’s not always in such a great mood that she’ll reach out to the outside world) and because of the way people are and the way they handle difference, it’s something she doesn’t get to experience on a regular basis. So Michelle the waitress’ kindness in treating my sister like anyone else, a tiny event she likely forgot minutes after it happened, meant the world to Andrea right at that moment.
And then, about an hour later, as Andrea and I finished some Christmas shopping and she loudly and happily wished the cashier a Merry Christmas with great, innocent enthusiasm, well, that pretty much sealed the deal. Put out some cookies, crack open that box of tissues, prepare for floods at the first sentimental t.v. commercial, Christmas 2009 is officially open for business.