Some of life’s great truths have the staying power of Keith Richards and Bob Dylan combined. Which is to say, they’re not pretty, but there’s no getting rid of them.
One of these truths is that the new guy will always get the “fun” stuff.
A second is that the news always happens, regardless of any calendar dates or holidays.
Put these together, and you’ll understand why, about 20 years ago, I was heading into the newsroom of The Garden City Telegram on Christmas Day.
Mind you, the world wasn’t burning down – well, no more than it usually is, anyway. No apartment buildings had exploded, no planes had crashed on Main Street, no eccentric billionaires had decreed that every resident of southwest Kansas was getting a lifetime cash award. (Darn it.) But there would still be a newspaper on Dec. 26, and so the rookie got to come in and keep an ear on the police scanner in case anything happened … and to work on a short feature in case nothing did.
Appropriately enough, I spent the time talking to my colleagues of the moment – namely, the others who by choice or circumstance found themselves working on the holiday. Truckers. Ambulance workers. Police officers. All the folks who quietly keep the gears moving, even when life seems to come to a halt.
For most, it wasn’t a day lost, but a day postponed. There would be time to celebrate, to observe, to enjoy … once the job was done. A time claimed rather than found, a moment to be made rather than simply reached.
I still appreciate that.
After all, it’s a lesson Heather and I came to know very well.
Christmas Eve in Garden City. Our first as a married couple. A friend had invited us to a candlelight service, one of Heather’s favorite things in the world – only for one of her chronic illnesses to have a brief flare-up that evening. We didn’t have to go to an emergency room, but we clearly weren’t going anywhere else, either.
Young husbands do many things out of desperation. Which is how I happened to sit at our piano that night by candlelight, playing carols from the hymnal and reading appropriate sections of the Christmas story. Since Heather couldn’t go to the candlelight service, I brought the service to her.
We weren’t where we meant to be. We weren’t where we wanted to be. But together, we made the moment.
And a memory that still endures for both of us.
We imbue dates with a lot of power. That can create a sort of magic where it feels like everyone around you is acting in a common purpose, to a common goal. But if for some reason you’re disconnected from the revelry, that approaching holiday can become awkward instead of wonderful, something that everyone else gets to enjoy while you stand to one side.
And like that, “Christmas is coming” starts to sound less like a carol and more like a threat.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Christmas isn’t about Dec. 25. It never was. It’s about setting a time aside to recognize unexpected joy and quiet love, to treasure those who are closest to your heart and focus on what’s truly important. To see those around us as people deserving of kindness (even if they do have horrible taste in sweaters).
That’s a moment that can be claimed at any time.
Or even at every time.
May that moment always be with you, whenever you choose to make it. May it comfort you with a warmth that will last and endure.
If we’re truly fortunate, it might even outlast Keith Richards.