At Large : What to say?
You can't miss Christmas on the calendar, or on the street, or in the newspapers or the television. What's not so red letter is the last day to send Christmas cards so they'll arrive in time to embarrass friends and loved ones who have not thought to send you a holiday greeting. Whatever that Christmas card deadline was, we've missed it again this year. It's not the first time. So, as we have done once or twice before, we'll mail our Christmas greetings on Christmas Eve, or the next day, or the next, and supplement the sentiment with a tatting of cheery blessings directed toward the year ahead, all in hopes of finessing our delinquency.
Perhaps you are, as I am, mildly curious about how folks can be so organized as to get their cards into the mail on time year after year. It's not as though we don't have lists. We have lists, on paper and on the computer. But to be honest, I would be more than mildly curious if I thought that whatever I might learn from a rigorous inquiry into the subject would eventually lead to better Christmas card performance on my part. I know that's unlikely.
And, despite our dismal record, I am emphatically not going to join the coming multitudes that will eschew snail mail and send a mass emailed X-mas greeting. Indeed, if you are the sort who thinks of Christmas as X-mas, emailed greetings are probably just the thing for you. And, if you'll indulge me just a few words more on the subject, the whole Internet/email/social networking thing has conclusively reinforced my view of the paucity of the human imagination. Not everyone is created equal to the task of expressing himself successfully in language or visual media on the sentimental subject of Christmas (or any other subject, really). Most of these things have been touched on by others, and by unparalleled others, over hundreds of years. We lesser mortals are unlikely to improve upon their efforts, no matter the digital vehicles now available to us.
But never mind that. What about the friends and family who are able to compose Christmas newsletters, get them illustrated in color and copied in volume and then into the mail in a timely fashion. I am in awe, if not illuminated, by such efforts. Still, they are beyond mere Christmas-card accomplishment and off in another, distant galaxy of efficiency, whose alien inhabitants I tremble at the thought of meeting.
We've had two- and three-pagers this year, with photos embedded in the texts. Now, photographs of friends that you don't often see face to face during the year are good. One can assess the toll that time has taken and sometimes find a little satisfaction.
"Oh, I see Charlie has lost a bit more hair, and doesn't he look shorter than last year? He's got age-shrink, I'm guessing."
Or, "Norma (she now prefers to be called Beach Grass) has put on a bit of weight, hasn't she? That's too bad; she was always so striking looking. Or maybe it's not the weight, maybe it's that gray bob hairdo..."
But if the pictures come with associated text, one can find oneself plunged into painful self-reflection.
"Timmie's just back from a Peace Corps stint in Zimbabwe," some distant relation reports, "where he saved an entire village from cholera. Zooey will graduate from Harvard Law in June, she's at the tippie-top of the class, can you believe it? (No.) And Tom and I have sold the little holiday boutique we opened a year ago for, well, I'm ashamed to say, but $10 million. I know, it was a stroke of luck. We don't deserve it. (That, at least, is true.) Anyhow, we're looking around for a new project, but we'll probably travel for a while. What's new with all of you?"
I'm thinking, Nothing I want to tell you about.
What would I write? Let's see: The kids saw Moll and me fast-dancing at a summer wedding we went to, and they ran shrieking from the room, saying we had ruined their lives with embarrassment. The septic system quit just before Christmas, and we'll have to dig up the whole lawn to repair it, but that won't be till the spring. Meantime, we're using an outdoor privy, or the neighbor's plumbing while they're in Florida. So many things are broken around the house that Moll thinks we may have to move because I'll never get them all fixed. Career-wise, we're not planning any big moves.
I don't mean to complain. I know these Christmas letters are meant to touch just the highlights - the graduations, the births, the marriages, the anniversaries, the professional advancements - but real life has more to it than highlights, and I don't think very many Christmas newsletter writers, for all their efficiency in getting the news written and mailed, want to swing at the unavoidable curve balls of family life. When I think back over the years, not just this ghastly one that's ending, I can think of plenty to say about the family, lots of it worthy of a Christmas newsletter, some of it better left unreported. But, I know that even if I did set out to put it all on paper for the annual Christmas newsletter, I'd never get it in the mail on time.