Christmas Eve day, 10 a.m.
I have ventured into the mall to get “just one more thing.”
Everyone seems to be here, cycling up and down the aisles in an endless search, Roomba vacuums narrowly avoiding hitting shelves or each other.
I am grouchy. Lines are long. Cars move slowly through the Moebius-strip like parking lot circuit. I want to tap on the horn to speed them up, but I know it wouldn’t do any good. I wonder about the legal trouble I’d get into if I drove directly over the grass berm to the street.
Why did I come here? I had most of my gifts purchased early and conveniently delivered via Amazon. But last night I had a haunting vision of that one, poor family member, sitting amid the colorful litter of everyone’s unwrapped gifts, lower lip trembling. Does my family even love me?
Target is a sad and desolate place today, its employees tired and its shelves and racks depleted. Except for an odd selection of things: weirdly abbreviated women’s sweaters, manly flasks, and…..bath bombs. There are lots of bath bombs. If they actually exploded, that would make for an interesting gift. Alas, they do not.
I continue searching for something, anything, for a present. My thoughts go toward condemning our country’s consumerism, embedded in us so deeply that we don’t feel good unless we’re buying things. I think of how Jesus himself would see this. Would he, who was born in the poorest of circumstances, approve of this scene? Would he replay the biblical scene in the temple in Jerusalem, by kicking over the Santa and Rudolph plushies, mad that they were an affront to the seriousness of his birth? Would he overthrow the displays of green and red bath bombs?
I believe God is able to be sad about the need-to-buy desperation, while deeply loving the people caught up in it.
Jesus would be looking at the people pushing the carts. The ones who are here because it’s the first day they could drop their kids off with a relative so they could go buy them gifts. Jesus would be looking at the employees, working one of the three jobs they need to work in order to afford to rent a room in Silicon Valley. Jesus would look at my grouchy heart, sad that I am making unnecessary stress for myself this morning (Finally nailed that gift for Aunt Flo—and it was on sale!) when sitting down and listening to Aunt Flo would be less tangible but a more memorable gift.
When my freshman English class read Fahrenheit 451 this year, we learned that a dystopia starts with a good intention. One that is thoughtful and fair. Then it gets twisted out of proportion. In the Christmas shopping scenario, our desire is to show our family and friends that we value them. We want to see their faces light up when they open a gift. We have family friends who excel at giving joy-inducing gifts to one another, and it’s a beautiful thing. But I don’t feel great when I buy something just to give somebody something to unwrap with my name on it. I want to think differently next year.
As I hang out with my family today, the grouch in me is receding. Rain has started here, just enough to give us some seasonal ambiance here in California. From the kitchen, there’s the smell of freshly baked bread. In the other room, I hear sounds of bumping, crinkling and giggling that accompanies gift wrapping. I am happy. I don’t need much else.
To all of you, your family and friends–best wishes for a Merry Christmas and/or happy holiday!