By George Valadie
Consider just for a minute — when did you first notice it had happened to you?
I’m not sure it hit me at any one particular moment. It was more like a collection of moments.
Each a sad one, now that I think about it.
First, there was that little kid in the back of the church last Sunday. He was driving me crazy. Sometimes crying, sometimes talking; and when he finally did manage a few minutes of silence, he was all movement, all the time. And he was bugging me.
And then later that day, I caught myself in mid-curse, hollering at some random driver whose only sin seemed to be his desire to turn left before I could do the same.
Then there was that overflow crowd at the restaurant, the hostess who couldn’t please anyone on her list, and the waiter who said my favorite dessert had just sold out.
All were irritating me, though none of them had done anything wrong.
And that’s when it hit me.
My Christmas spirit was officially gone.
I am apparently back to being the me I had been before. Has it happened to you yet?
It wasn’t that long ago that we had gone to Mass on Christmas Eve, and the place was full of little kids like him. Each one looked so cute, all dressed in their best red and green, though none knew why. Confused as to whether they had come to see Santa or the baby Jesus, each of them squealed and hollered and made every bit as much noise as this most recent little guy.
But none of that — and none of them — had bothered me at all.
Similarly, as awful as it might seem to most, I’ve always been a last-minute holiday shopper, willing, if not anxious, to get out there and fight the day-before madness. The drivers don’t bother me, nor do the lines of people waiting to pay. If I have to park in the far reaches, I figure the walk will do me some good.
If stores have sold out of what I want, I just think of something else. I’m the calmest guy in the mall.
That was me not that long ago.
And though I’d like to tell you that’s the real me, the everyday me, it’s not. I won’t lie. It’s only because Christmas is my favorite time of year. I acknowledge I’m a much different and much better me when that feeling is in the air
— and in my heart.
But now it’s gone — and so it
seems is that better part of me.
We tend to do that, you know. In spite of all the chaos and the craziness, all the money and the madness, for those few days and weeks we’re somehow able to unearth that inner piece of us that we wish we didn’t bury the rest of the year.
We smile more. We tip more. We tolerate more. We forgive more.
We send cards to people we don’t call. We buy angel-tree gifts for people we don’t know.
But — be it sudden or subtle — as the holiday passes by and the workaday world resumes, it’s not long before we also tend to be and do a little less of all of that.
How ironic that the “new” year brings out our “old” selves.
We go backward, back to being a bit more Scrooge-like, so to speak.
Oh, if only that were true! If only …
Because honestly, I wish I could be exactly like Ebenezer.
True, it took three ghosts and a pretty nasty dream to bring him around, but he did indeed catch the Christmas spirit. And it was that spirit that moved him to do the same things we just finished doing.
He tipped the turkey-buying errand-boy pretty well. He donated generously to the angel-tree coffers of his day. He came to love the people who had irritated him. He forgave Bob Cratchit’s tardiness. He smiled more. He laughed more. He found that better piece of himself he had long ago buried.
He was me … the Christmastime me. Back before the spirit left.
But it’s what happened long after that decisive Christmas Eve that matters so much more.
“Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, as good a man, as the good old city knew …”
He didn’t go back. His new year buried his old self.
In spite of how crazy it seemed to everyone else (and maybe that’s what holds us back), he became someone different, someone unexpected, the someone others had never known.
“Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them, … His own heart laughed, and that was quite enough for him.”
If I could be more like Scrooge, it will be quite enough for me too.
Dear God — Thank you for another day, another week, another year. Thank you for the chance to do more, to do better, to be better. May we never waste a moment. Amen.
George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.