Peace on Earth?

How about peace in one’s mind?

The holidays are definitely my favorite time of year.  Mainly because of the spirit of the season.  Fuck gift giving.  I’m a capitalist, don’t get me wrong.  That said, I’m impulsive, spontaneous and probably more selfish than most…therefore, I buy what I want, pretty much when I want it.  My family is not the same, per se, but they definitely have shifted the focus of the holidays to the experience for the young members of our family and, oh yeah…just family.  Being together.  Cooking.  Eating.  Playing games.  Being together.  As.  A.  Family.

That’s what the holidays have meant to me since forever ago when I began living my life independently as an adult.

With a career in retail.

I’m sure you can see how that would potentially jade my pleasure during the holidays.

I only decorated when in a relationship.  I never made the time to write out the Christmas cards I purchased every year.  Usually from a co-worker’s child to help with fundraising for their school activities or summer whaling adventures or what-have-you.  I didn’t bake cookies or treats for my friends.  Nor did I particularly participate in gift giving.

My holiday experience truly existed in the spirit of the holiday.

I had to dig deep to find my pleasure in the holidays as working in retail simultaneously attempted to suck the pleasure right out of them.  It wasn’t initially an exercise in retaining my sense of the season as much as it was in resisting the urge to give people a good baby-shaking when they needed it.  Apparently, that’s frowned upon.

I looked at the innocent joy of kids experiencing the magic of Christmas (and other asundry religious holidays that occur around the Winter Solstice).  There’s some purity there, let me tell ya.

Then I would be reminded of the offset of kids being monsters the rest of the year.  Heck, if I took off my rose colored glasses, I could catch them being not so sweet and innocent around Christmas, too.

Damn.  Was it a small victory or an ample sized delusion to lay the mantle of my holiday spirit on kids?  Who knows…I dug some more.

My grandmother had managed to camouflage the fact that she was a grumpy old man by actually being a woman and having firm ideas on what social graces should and shouldn’t be.  Having her influence in my life resulted in a guy who is actually soft and gooey under his crusty exterior.

I open doors for people or hold them for those passing through after me.

I say “please” and “thank you” to servers.  And still tip decently, too.

I’m known to help people carry their bags if they are overloaded.  As a fellow customer.

Classic Portlander, too.  I’m going to give you directions on the street if I think you need them and wait out an awkward right of way situation at stop signs.

So, maybe this was a place for me to make some holiday spirit.  Those small gestures are so much more easily executed this time of year with all the shopping and visiting people are doing.  We need each other’s social grace to get through our holiday madness!

So, I did do just that.

Much to the consternation of my ex here in Portland.  He would get so grumpy when he’d turn around and see me stuck holding a door for an endless string of shoppers.  Forgetting that I also held it for him.

And it was all good an fun and fine.  Until cellular phones got smart.

And then there’s Amazon and other online retailing.

When people venture out for holiday errands now, they are usually plugged into their phone and paying zero fucks to anything happening outside that bubble, so they don’t seem to notice someone doing something nice for them…like not letting a door smack them in the face as they stroll obliviously through.  Because now we’re entitled and distracted.  Or the people out running errands kind of pissed that they couldn’t get it delivered and had to leave home to do something for someone else.  When I suspect someone falls into this category, I do muse about whether they couldn’t have just stayed home if they had been willing to pay for shipping on whatever they needed…and likely paid for parking when they came downtown to procure.  That’s a fun mental exercise:  how much would they spend on shipping versus parking and did they consider this?  Did they procrastinate too long and now they can’t have it shipped so they have to go out and shop in the real world?

Just musings, but not any that are productive for nurturing a holiday spirit.

Take three.

I tried appreciating the charitable workers making merry the holidays of those less fortunate.  I was in SoCal when my case of the bah humbugs hit me.  I would drive to work and see the bell ringers doing their thing at the mall entrances.  I’d empty my pockets of change for them every shift I worked; on my way in from the parking lot, on my way back after lunch or coffee breaks…just shekels, but still.  I would participate in the giving trees set up in the lobby of my bank.  For whatever reason, I’ve rarely done the Toys For Tots thing.  I dunno why.  Maybe it’s that I don’t find myself in toy stores that often.  Even with my nephew I tend to by clothes for gifts.  Yeah, I’m that uncle.  So my holiday cheer was somewhat convenience-based, I guess.

Then I moved from SoCal to Portland and from Portland to Seattle.  That’s when the shitcake really hit the fan.   Here I am, freshly primed for the holidays in a new town and looking for those bell ringers.

Empathy on high!

The problem?  When I moved to Seattle, my commute transitioned to a *ten* block walk.  That asteriskonomical ten is for mom.  She knows why.  Anyway, I’m giving all my coin to the beggars set up on each corner as I walk through downtown Seattle to work.  Not each intersection, each corner!  They are – fairly literally – all occupied by homeless people and street buskers doing their thing.  Well, except for the corner that Nordstrom takes up to build out its Santa Workshop.  Barely an open space for a bell ringer to set up a bucket and do their ring.  I start giving small denomination bills because I believe in their charity.  My first holiday in Seattle I nearly went broke.  I started resenting the beggars that preyed on my empathy.  My charitable spirit was intended for a different target.  A target that would probably deliver $.39 on the $1 to those in need, but still…

Maybe this thread of holiday cheer was wearing thin as it aged.

Back to the drawing board.

Then my grandmother died.

I don’t know why I associate her death with a shift in my holiday focus, but I do.  It could be that she was a holiday constant, my mom’s mom.  My other grandparents were divorced and shared visitation at my family’s home on holidays, whereas my maternal grandmother usually stayed overnight.  Maybe it was that she shaped many of the values that are part of my worldview today.  Maybe it was that I knew I couldn’t keep making myself feel merry by giving out loose change.  That’s as much a placebo as willy-nilly gift giving.

Again, who knows?

The important thing?  That I felt that missing piece of my family during the holiday.  My family had already changed its gift giving mentality prior to her death, we changed it up a bit every year.  It kind of evolved to where we are now.  My sister really drove the shift.  For a few years we drew names and bought a gift for a specific person; and the nephew.  She always seemed to break that rule…or drew my name a lot.  And my brother’s.  And then my parent’s, of course, but we all seemed to break that rule with them and them with us.  It was a good idea, but we weren’t really all that disciplined about it.  This year, we’re trying a cookie exchange.  I’m not sure how I feel about that…but it’s not about the cookies, right?

It’s about the family.  I know this.  I always got this part of the holiday, even with my weird and awkward divorced grandparents.  But something still wasn’t right.  And it’s always been one of those niggling little mental itches.

One of the other evolutions our holiday celebrating took was my parents’ ritual of spending a night at the Heathman when they came into Portland – that’s the hotel from Fifty Shades for all of you middle-aged and under romanced people out there – to shop for gifts.  Like I said, they  were horrible at following the gift giving rules.  Y’know, come to think of it, most of us were.  As exciting as the prospect of buying two gifts was, I think we all got a sense of enabling from just going out shopping for someone else and pretty soon, the tree was piled high with conspicuous consumption.  Anyway, my parents would spend a night or two at a nice hotel, shop, go to dinner, enjoy the seasonal immersion that downtown Portland has to offer.  It was special.

Of course, as kids do, I come along and ruin everything.  I moved back to town.  Literally town, not 30 miles outside of town like the rest of the family.  So, here I am in the hotel’s back yard getting invitations to dinner with them.  Which has happened a few times now, and I enjoy that and look forward to it as part of my holiday ritual.

This year, they even extended an invite to the Silver Fox.  Which enabled what I think might be the final evolution of my search for the holiday spirit.  It was nice for the Fox, too, since mom and dad wanted to go to Huber’s and he had never been.

It was the week that his ex was scheduled to be served a well-deserved restraining order.


Break ups.


Standing outside your ex’s window and throwing sticks at it.

Sending 30 harassing texts in the overnight hours.

Posting personal financial information and medical history on social media.


Cursing someone’s children and grandchildren.

Like I said, well-deserved.

Still sad.

Remember that sense of empathy that almost caused me to go broke when I moved to Seattle?

So, during dinner, the Fox gets a text from a concerned friend after they saw yet another installment in the defamation of my best friend by his (and it should be noted that I am not a trained psychologist, so this is strictly my lay opinion…regardless of its clinical accuracy) psychotic ex.  He glances at it with zero reaction and remains in the moment that our festive foursome is experiencing.

I knew nothing other than he had gotten a text.

When he told me later, I mentally golf clapped at his focus and ability to distance himself from such a painful and frightening experience.

And that’s when it kind of clicked in for me.

The peace on earth that we hear invoked during the holiday season seems purely sentimental.  A wish akin to that of winning the lottery, although I think most Americans are more active in winning the lottery than we are at creating any peace on earth.  Just a thought for another day.

But can it be attained without peace in one’s own mind?

This ex – who so needs a nickname, but I’m not sure he will have any permanence on my blog, so I’m pinning it for now – was creating such upheaval in my life, and I was only on the periphery.  I could not even imagine what my friend was experiencing.  But all the lashing out didn’t seem to be coming from a place of heartache.  It – and this was a pattern I knew from his behaviors toward me during his relationship with the Fox – seemed to me that the acts he was committing were from a place of insecurity and poor self-worth.

And that got me thinking…was my external focus on finding my holiday spirit merely an avoidance technique to shift the focus from my internal dissatisfaction with the holidays?  Or of my life in general that was amplified by the intensity of retail during the fourth quarter?

It’s either a crazy tangent or simply a moment of self-awareness-slash-clarity; yet, there it was.

Was I putting pressure on kids to be sweet and wide-eyed, charities to infuse my street corners with a sense of generosity and people to be just…not such raw versions of their lowest possible selves instead of being active in participating in creating the holiday spirit I wanted to experience?

Was there peace in my piece of mind?

And, honestly?  Yeah.  There was.  And has been all along.  But my thought on this is that really, the holidays are about more.  That more is external.  It’s the communal experience of the holiday.  The inner peace and external peace are interdependent for a solid holiday spirit to thrive.

Our holidays are populated largely by the same mass of humanity that we live with daily.  But that spirit is supposed to move us en masse to joyfulness.

We have decorations to remind us to celebrate that spirit.  But more often get caught up in being the best decorated…not for the elevation of the spirit, but selfishly for being the best.  ‘Murika!

Songs give our emotions a rhythm to move them from within us to those around us.  And headphones and earbuds either keep those songs in our own bubble by preventing their escape.  Or, perhaps worse…to keep the airborne festive songs out of our bubble.

But after witnessing the turmoil of my friend’s tortured ex-boyfriend, what I want for this year – and years to follow – is to be present in my own state of mind.  To experience and enjoy the holidays without allowing my dissatisfaction at the missing romance of a holiday spirit to diminish someone else’s experience of their holiday.

I’m fond of asking people if their behaviors are part of the solution or part of the problem.  Are your actions and words helpful or hurtful?  This commitment to my own presence of mind will hopefully allow me to experience the peace in my mind to fully enjoy the season versus pinning my enjoyment on one facet of that holiday spirit.  Watching the Fox compartmentalize his hopefully ended drama with his ex so it wouldn’t affect his enjoyment of a wonderful evening was a helpful example for me arising from what is obviously a hurtful moment in his life.

I am open to re-visiting the baby-shaking option, but I doubt that will actually be helpful to anyone but myself.  And the lawyers that defend me in the ensuing civil suits.

Certainly, though…if I can’t keep my typical Early Onset Grumpiness in check during the holidays…I’m a grinch.  And that’s not me being a part of any solution, in my opinion.

So, while I’ve obviously solved all of my issues with the holidays <eye roll> let me leave you with my wishes for a happy holiday for you and all of those you hold dear.  May they all enjoy peace within and without for another year.  Until Winter Solstice 2016, my gentle readers!


Peace on Earth?

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