Monday, January 09, 2006

Little Christmas

MY WIFE and I celebrate Christmas on January 6th.

Let me amend that. We celebrate Christmas on December 25th, like most of the world, but we delay our own exchanging of gifts and whatnot until the Feast of the Epiphany, which is on January 6th. According to legend, that is the day when the Wise Men presented their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus. It is also known, in some circles, as Little Christmas. Some Christians, mostly of older eastern orthodox branches, consider it the major day of celebration.

We chose to celebrate on Little Christmas, a few years back, for a number of reasons. The most compelling of these was that we could concentrate upon our time with family and friends during the "normal" season, without the added bother of shopping and buying and wrapping for ourselves factored in. By delaying for those twelve days (which, by the way, is where the twelve days of Christmas come from) we would make the season much less hectic and stressful overall.

It has turned out to be a marvelous way to do things, at least for us. An added benefit, though by no means the major reason we do it, is that many items go on sale immediately following Christmas day, so we are also able to cash in on a few bargains here and there. This year, this was almost no factor at all, as we decided to not exchange presents with each other. We decided to do this because of our economic situation. In other words, we be broke.

Well, we're not broke; that's an exaggeration. However, we are not as flush as we once were, so we decided that this would be a decent place to cut back. It's not like we don't have enough stuff, anyway. We both kind of figure that whatever we get each other will mostly be superfluous, even if loving and heartfelt. Now, having said that, we still ended up getting each other a few small items. We just love each other too much to have not done so.

MY WIFE bought me a couple of DVDs she saw on sale. One is a Bob Denver compilation, which includes some Gilligan's Island and which also features three episodes from a bizarre TV series called Dusty's Trail, which was basically Gilligan in the Wild West. It was done after the original Gilligan had been cancelled and it is almost a carbon copy of that show. Instead of the SS Minnow, there is a stagecoach. Instead of The Skipper and Gilligan, there is The Wagonmaster (Forrest Tucker) and Dusty (Denver). There is a millionaire and his wife, a brainy schoolteacher, an innocent farm girl, and a good-looking starlet/saloon singer. And, instead of being marooned on a desert island, they are just plain lost in the desert, which gives it an almost Old Testament connotation, now that I think of it.

For my part, I extended MY WIFE's subscription to Guideposts, a monthly magazine that contains inspiring stories of faith. She has been a subscriber for many years and it is one heck of a good read at times. I also knew that she needed a calendar for her office, so I made her one. You may remember me mentioning that I had done this for my Grandfather for a number of years when I was a child, so it was fun to do so again. My skills as an artist are fairly limited, but they've improved a little in the almost forty years since I last did one, so she shouldn't be too embarrassed to hang it on her cubicle wall. I'd say that 9 or 10 of the 12 drawings I did don't look completely like a kid did them, so it's passable on the whole.

One other thing she bought for me was also a calendar. It is a desktop "page-a-day" type, and I'll end this by quoting a few pages here, after I tell you a little about it. It is called Life's Journeys According To Mister Rogers, and it is wonderful. So was the man.

We hold a special place in our hearts for Fred Rogers. Many people do, of course, having grown up with him as a television friend, but we became even more admiring of him as adults. This may sound a bit strange, but there was a time, a few years back, when we would tape his daily show and then watch it together after work. While some adults found the pace of his show aggravating, we found the leisurely nature of it extremely relaxing after some stressful days at work. It was our video martini.

As a person involved in an aspect of entertainment (albeit a somewhat strange and minor offshoot) I became curious about the behind-the-scenes stuff. I wrote Fred Rogers a letter, asking a number of lengthy questions concerning technical aspects of the show. He was kind enough to answer my letter with a very detailed three-page letter of his own. He also included some 25 or 30 pages of background material about the show, as well as a very lovingly inscribed autographed photo, which we framed and now have displayed in a prominent place in our living room.

There are few celebrities who would have gone out of their way to such an extent in order to satisfy a fan. He did much more than could have reasonably been expected. The time it took him to answer in such detail must have consumed at least a couple of hours, and the personal nature of his reply was a profound testament to the fact that the man, as you saw him on the screen, was exactly as he appeared. His caring and gentle nature was no put on for the camera. I was very touched by it all, as was MY WIFE.

When he died, we were severely saddened. I cried. I assure you that he is the only person I can say that about who I never actually met.

In any case, the calendar contains one bit of Rogers' philosophy of life per day. Below are selections from the first few days. They are simple pronouncements concerning humanity- at first glance, perhaps so simplistic as to be dismissed as puerile. However, as one considers them at length, they are revealed as profound (though simply worded) and I truly cannot think of a better person to guide my daily dealings with others. I hope I can remember them when I need them.

"Transitions are almost always signs of growth, but they can bring feelings of loss. To get somewhere new, we may have to leave somewhere else behind."

"I wish that many times I had heard 'Just who you are at this moment, with the way that you're feeling, is fine. You don't have to be anything more than who you are right now.' I'd like to think it's also something that's happened to me through the years, that I'm more able to accept myself as I happen to be, rather than as somebody thought I should be."

"It's really easy to fall into the trap of believing that what we do is more important than what we are. Of course, it's the opposite that's true: What we are ultimately determines what we do!"

"I believe that appreciation is a holy thing - that when we look for what's best in a person we happen to be with at the moment, we're doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we're participating in something sacred."

What of importance can I possibly say to follow that? See you tomorrow.

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