My most poignant Christmas memory took place while visiting my mother’s grave. Even I’m surprised to see myself write that. After all, we live in an era where Christmas brings out the twin vices of materialism and selfishness in many people. Who doesn’t vividly recall the childhood thrill of opening presents under the blazing lights of a Christmas tree? Such times comprise the pantheon of my happiest memories.
Mom passed away in the fall of 2010 following a brief, but agonizing battle with cancer. Even though I understood the magnitude of her illness, her passing still came as a surprise. Nothing prepared me for losing someone that close; even when I knew it inevitable.
Christmas morning that year was eerie. For the first Christmas ever, the scent of Mom’s bacon and eggs didn’t fill the house. I found it harder to cope with not giving her presents. I’m terrible when it comes to shopping for women, which may explain why I’m still single. At any rate, no matter what I got, Mom would always gush like she’d been hoping for my present her entire life. I already missed experiencing her doing this. In fact, I still had the gift I bought her for her 46th anniversary. (I should note that she passed away on that day.)
I walked down the same steps I had as a child. During Christmases past, I’d race down them past Mom and Dad to my new toys. This year, instead of yelling for Dad to get up so he could film me opening my presents, I went downstairs and breakfasted alone. I wanted to let Dad sleep in. Christmas is tough enough for him. His father passed away on Christmas Eve of 2003.
My gaze drifted among a series of old family photos laid out on the dining room table. One included my Mom, Grandmother and Great-Grandmother. It’s a shame it takes such a personal tragedy to make someone appreciate the real meaning of the holidays. Without family, there’s not much of a reason to have them.
Both my mom and grandmother are buried at the same cemetery. Since it was early on Christmas morning, I thought it would be a nice gesture to “visit” them, if you will. I put on a warm coat and jumped in the car.
While driving past a series of stores along the highway I chuckled at the irony. It’s impossible to find a parking space during any of the days leading up to Christmas. Everybody runs out to take advantage of those last minute deals they run close to the holiday. It’s like nothing in life matters, but shopping. On Christmas Day, all of them are closed; the parking lots completely empty. That always seemed strange to me.
The hypocrisy in thinking that way hit me like a blast of cool winter air. As a kid, I wouldn’t leave the living room for a week after Christmas. My new toys were my universe. Nothing else existed outside of my circumscribed personal play pen. While reflecting on my new life situation, I recognized that I could just as selfish as anyone else at times. I guess that’s the problem with becoming a mature adult: you start thinking like one.
While ruminating on all the self-centeredness that permeates the “season of giving” I pulled into the cemetery. A “Christmas miracle” of sorts greeted me. The scene reminded me a bit of the store parking lots during the lead-up to Christmas Day. I don’t recollect the exact number, but numerous people chose to spend their Christmas morning the same way I had. It touched me to see a man, his wife, their three kids AND FAMILY DOG paying their respects. In addition to the holiday, the temperature hovered in the low 30’s (Fahrenheit, of course). It still wasn’t 9:00 AM, yet, either.
This experience made me feel even worse about my childhood selfishness. Still, it enhanced my faith in humanity. Witnessing so many people focused on something larger than they was a gift worthy of Good Ol’ St. Nick.