The rhythm of swishing windshield wipers lulled me into a sleep like state in the back of a black car headed into DC. As Gizzy slept in the seat next to me, I allowed my mind to drift off.
The driver of the vehicle, a Muslim immigrant from Pakistan, turned a small knob on his console, and the dismal traffic report was replaced with Nat King Cole’s silvery voice offering that simple phrase, “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, to you!”
In that moment, the elegant melody opened a portal to my youth, and memories from a distant past began to flicker behind my closed eyelids. I saw a snowy backyard in Colorado Springs, pristine white save for the boot tracks left by none other than Santa himself. I remember meticulously assembling the “Crash Test Dummies” cars that Santa had left for us, only to ram them together and watch them explode apart in an instant. I remember years later receiving a boom box, with an accompanying shoe box full of early 90’s favorites including Pearl Jam and Spin Doctors, from my Dad. That was the year I fell in love with music. I remember warm Christmases in Florida, and cold ones in Colorado. I remember sledding on Christmas Day, and other years I swam instead. I remember ugly sweaters, pajama pants (lots of pajama pants), cinnamon rolls and cookies.
As I floated from memory to memory in my minds eye, I noticed that the common thread between each one was my loving family. Each year, while the presents under the tree seemed to be the primary focus, the strong love we all shared sat on the periphery, warming us like a crackling fire. Playing with the “Crash Test Dummies” was only fun because I did so with my brothers. Each time the crash sent pieces flying everywhere, we laughed and giggled together, then all pitched in to reassemble the cars for another round. I fell in love with music in the company of my sister, and now Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins are favorites that we share. The shoebox also contained favorites of my father, and together we enjoyed U2’s “Joshua Tree,” and “Regatta de Blanc” by the Police. While that music is great, and timeless in it’s own right, what made it truly enjoyable was sharing it with my family. To this day, when I hear a new song that I like, my first reaction is to dial up a brother or a sister to see if they like it as well.
For the first time in quite a few years, I got truly homesick in the back of that black car. I had just been home for Thanksgiving, so it wasn’t like I hadn’t seen my family lately… It was just that I for the first time truly appreciated the meaning of Christmas! While I had said it many times before, I had never really felt it until that moment.
Before I lost my vision two years ago, I was a very selfish person. Not in the Grinch sense of the word, but as with most youths my world revolved around myself. Everything I was doing was the most important thing in the world, and I didn’t do a very good job of putting myself in the shoes of others, and attempting to understand their perspective. In losing my vision, my perspective has been altered in more ways than one! I now have a much better understanding of the importance of family and community, and a greater appreciation for empathy. As with Christmas, I knew the virtue of empathy, and I never desired to be, nor strived to be, nor really thought of myself as a selfish person. It took me losing my capability, and becoming dependent on others to understand that as much as I wanted to think that I could do anything, and that I was invincible, I wasn’t at all. We all have strengths and weaknesses, we all face challenges, and there will always come a time where we will need help. It is critically important for us to understand this, and for us to learn to truly embrace our family, and our community.
I urge you to take a Dickens’ style look at your Christmas past. As you listen to your favorite Christmas songs, let yourself wander about in your past, and see how you’ve grown. Watch as your life changes, how Christmas seems to stay the same, allowing us to measure ourselves against the control. Watch as the memories flicker by how important other people have been in your life. Whether it’s family, friends, neighbors, or teammates, cherish those memories and love.
I hope you have a very Merry Christmas and a very Happy Holiday! May you spend it surrounded by those you love, and who love you back!