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Memories of Christmas past

One of my most vivid holiday memories is my husband crouched, half-lying, on the floor of a Globe Lamp store in Vancouver, Washington. He’s trying to gauge the height of a pair of bedside reading lamps. We’d looked forward to making the selection, in lieu of gift exchange, but neither of us envisioned he would be prone on the floor of a retail establishment gazing up at me through a pleated lamp shade.

And what does he see from that position? He catches a side view of his spouse of 20-plus years, still fighting her holiday head cold, balancing a squirmy 2-year-old on one hip while hanging on (tightly) to the hand of her wide-eyed 5-year old sister. It’s the day before Christmas Eve and we’re in a large store filled with glitter, glass, electricity and all those beckoning buttons and switches. And we have two small children with us. What were we thinking?

But it was good — that little moment. I will always remember it. The clerk at the lamp store gave our granddaughters sugarless suckers “because you are the first ones to come into the store today wearing pink,” and we found reasonably priced, perfect-height lamps to enhance our late-night reading. I was able to keep my coughing at bay, and the rain had actually stopped by the time we exited. We even saw a rainbow on the way back.

It may be the nostalgia that comes with getting older, or appreciation that the cold-that-finally-went-away had no chance of becoming coronavirus. Whatever the reasons, today I’m reflecting about holidays long passed. I’m wondering what it takes to have more of those “all-is-right-with-the-world-even-though-it-isn’t” moments. How do you take a situation that is less than ideal and “flip” it. See it differently, cherish it more.

In years gone by, “The Pursuit of Happyness” was our family’s Christmas Day entertainment. I don’t plan to ruin it for you if you’ve not seen the movie, but there is a moment when a not-so-clean train station men’s room is turned into a child’s version of a “sleeping cave” for a newly homeless father and son. That’s a perfect illustration of what I’m talking about.

That 5-year-old granddaughter in the lamp store turned 20 a few days ago. She is the epitome of grace and goodness. We still have the lamps we purchased that day. Less reading in bed, but last night it was a passage in one of my Christmas gifts to myself many years ago, “The Audacity of Hope.” I like the author’s vision of re-engagement and renewal, “seeing our own self-interest as inextricably linked to the interests of others.” The lollipop-supplying clerk in the lamp store had that figured out.

I still do not have the whole “flip and cherish” concept completely thought out. I have concluded it necessitates more cordiality and good humor, being (more frequently) “in the moment,” and the practice of unrelenting mutuality.

I plan to keep trying. Increasingly hopefully — every holiday season there will be more of those simple-yet-complicated, well-remembered moments to cherish. Some people might call it the pursuit of happiness.

Sharon Johnson is a retired health educator. Reach her at sharjohn99@gmail.com.