Saturday, December 07, 2019

another christmas story

Last night the local committee in charge of things holiday, lit up the Christmas tree on Barra de Navidad's malecon -- what passes for a public square in this little village.

I did not attend. For a lot of reasons that may or may not be relevant to today's essay. But we do not need to delve into them just yet.

What I did instead was to attend a birthday party for my neighbor's nephew. I was not initially invited. When my neighbor saw me heading toward the malecon, she called me over to have something to eat. Chicken, beef, and tostadas were in the process of being grilled.

It was obviously a child's birthday party. There must have been two dozen children present -- and only three adults, who were busy preparing the evening's repast.

I went back to the house to get a birthday card and slipped in a peso note. When I returned, my plate was ready.

I know two of my neighbor's children. They brought me a hand of bananas when they moved in. I reciprocated with a packet of cookies. We talked about their school and their dog, Max. And, with that, I had pretty much exhausted my closet of small-talk-with-kids.

So, I turned my attention to the adults. My neighbor and her mother had to break off frequently to initiate new games for the juvenile set. It was fun watching them, but my interest waned after about two hours when the music was turned up to full distortion volume. Conversation was impossible.

I handed the card to the birthday boy as I was leaving and wished him a happy birthday with that brush hand-knuckle punch beloved of kewl boys. His aunt told him to give me a hug -- which I accepted rather stiffly.

This morning my neighbor came over with the peso note I had put in the envelope. She said she was sorry, but she had to return it. When the other boys saw it, they wanted to know why they did not get money for their birthdays. She said she tried to explain. But the boys calmed down only after she took the money from her nephew. It was the story of Ivan's cow brought to life.

I am surprised I fell into that trap. I know from experience how easy it is to trip resentment with random gifts. It seems to be a universal human response -- and I know better. My do-good impulses almost always have unintended consequences.

What I did was to forget a lesson I had learned earlier in the day. I live next door to an apartment building that offers rudimentary shelter. But the residents take pride in their accommodations.

While walking back from the tienda de abarrotes yesterday afternoon, I noticed a new Christmas decoration. I had seen the husband of the couple who lives there drilling holes in the wall beside his entry door. The project is now complete. That is it at the top of this essay.

It was the perfect embodiment of Christmas. No gaudy giant Christmas tree adorned with lights. Just a simple abstract representation of some Christmas symbols.

I am certain there will be some who raise theological qualms about the choice of symbols (even though all have their genesis in Christian belief -- well, maybe not the reindeer). The Christmas tree with its representation of the trinity and the Messiah's resurrection. Santa Claus as the essence of selflessness and charity.

The wife noticed me standing there appreciating the piece and its message. We talked about it briefly. When I left, she took my left hand in hers and wished me Feliz Navidad. I doubt that a blessing from Mother Teresa would have lightened my step more.

For me the lesson of the day could not be clearer. I need to pull myself out of the role of being the controlling benefactor. In the end, how we deal with one another personally is far more important than a peso note slipped into a card.

My wish today is that you will have a similar Christmas -- letting your daily relationships reflect the peace and joy we celebrate. 

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