Quiet Desperation

Stiff the stuff for a holiday from the hyperactive holiday


Go ahead. Go ahead and ignore me, but one of these days you’ll know that I was right.

I have the remedy for all of your holiday anxieties. Each and every one.

You’ll think I’m kidding. You’ll think I’m a fool. And you know why? Because you are swept up in something you can’t control.

From now until the end of the month, you will be under pressure to gather, to travel, to greet, to host, and to spend, spend, spend.

They want you to buy someone you love a car or a truck or an engagement ring.

Why not a house?

Why not an island?

What’s my advice?

Let the holidays go, let them play through, and see what happens.

A great big weight will be lifted.

Every year for years, I booked flights in and out of Traverse City, Michigan. Half the time flights were delayed or canceled because of the weather.

Most the time I had to go through O’Hare, a traveler’s worst nightmare.

I’d get there eventually, and snow would be up to my wallet for a week.

And then. And then?

And then there was my mother, who tried her best, who tried too hard, who wanted everything to be perfect.

She vacuumed three times a day.

I’d wake and hear the vacuum. She wanted the house to look immaculate, as though it wasn’t lived in. And that’s the way it felt.

Day after day, the walls moved in on me.

I had a plan. I took a deep breath. I asked my mother and father if we could forgo Christmas.

“How would it be if I visited you in the spring instead?”

“What about exchanging gifts?”

“No gifts.”

It had a reached a point of no returns. We were exchanging gift cards. Nice but needless.

I said (with a straight face), “You are my gifts.”

And they bought it, and we lived happily ever after for the rest of their lives.

You’re probably not going to convince Little Tommy or Little Dorrit of any of this right away. But plant the seed.

There are a thousand better ways to observe the holidays than piling it on, overdoing it, or wrestling for must-haves at the mall.

The alleviation of late December air travel might have saved me from a few strangulations. And we ended the practice before 9/11, when, thereafter, proceeding through an international airport became long lines, sock-footed scrutiny, and being jammed into flu incubators.

There is an American illusion, reinforced endlessly, supported mainly by the mercantile, that no one can be happy at this time of year without giving and receiving objects.

It’s not true.

What if you did nothing between now and the end of the month to contribute to the illusion and just be welcoming, kind, and thoughtful?

I know it’s easier to hand someone an object. It acts on our behalf.

Try reminding a friend how much they mean to you, and leave it at that.

Try listening to a great audio book with your children, and leave it at that.

Try listening to Mozart’s “Requiem” as a family, and leave it at that.

This is never going to happen, is it? It’s asking too much. It’s a tradition. It’s an addiction. It’s now the end result of something that was once rather wonderful.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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