The defining moment of the holiday season came on Christmas Eve this year. We had invited a group over for turkey dinner, and one of our guests showed up about an hour late, just as we were carving up the bird, explaining that she’d been held up by a couple of minor accidents. Apparently she’d been doing some last minute Christmas shopping, had become distracted while searching for a parking spot on Broadway, and had rolled into the back of a brand new Lexus. Fortunately, the jolt had seemed worse than it was–there was no damage done to either vehicle, and the owner of the Lexus had been very understanding. After doing a quick inspection of the back of his car, he had wished her a Happy Christmas and gone on his way.
Four blocks later, still searching for a parking spot, her attention was grabbed by a woman who, for some inexplicable reason, was shinnying her way up a street light pole with a fur coat on. Slam. She had run into the same car. This time the Lexus owner was, understandably, not so understanding. In fact, he was pissed off. He asked our friend if she, perhaps, had some personal vendetta against him. Or did she just randomly go about slamming onto other people’s cars as some sort of unusual Christmas greeting? She apologized profusely, and they exchanged insurance information before getting back into their vehicles. He wisely put his hand out the car window, and waved her to go on ahead.
My friend said that she was so down in the dumps over this incident, that she had considered phoning us to cancel and just stay at home. She drove down to Jericho beach and sat in the car looking at the waves crashing up onto the shore. Sitting there, at the ocean’s edge, she had felt herself immersed in a great sea of self-pity – a good, old-fashioned Christmas tradition for most of us. As happens to all of us, when we feel hopelessly foolish for some reason, the accidents had seemed to her like a part of some larger pattern of absolute personal incompetence, like links in a larger chain of spilled glasses of orange juice, burnt pot roasts, social blunders and lost car keys that winds through all our lives.
By the time she got to our place, however, she was telling the story with a twinkle in her eye. Perhaps it was the red wine, but it seemed to those of us who heard it that it was a truly hilarious story. As everyone knows, the Christmas season can be depressing and stressful, even when you try your hardest to keep things in perspective. Having someone around who knows how to tell a good story and to laugh at herself goes along way toward soothing ragged nerves.
The fur-coated woman half way up the lamp post. The look on the man’s face as he peered into the rearview mirror the second time to see who had hit him. His hand jutting out of the driver’s window, waving her past. You just can’t make stuff like that up. I suspect that long after the material presents that we were given have been broken or lost, the images from that story will still be fresh in my mind.
I suspect, too, that there’s a larger message in this. All of us may want our lives to be filled with a higher purpose. We want to feel the presence of God, make a difference in the world, receive the Nobel Peace Prize, paint our masterpiece. Hopefully we have some moments of great exultation. For the most part, though, the things that truly define our lives are when we’re flying down a toboggan hill with the fresh snow hitting our face, holding hands and falling in love in a half-empty movie theatre watching Porky’s II, or accidentally farting at a funeral. All the ludicrous and sublime moments that make up our lives and remind us of our humanity, each one of us connected to the whole.