Last year a friend of mine finished a fabulous book for his wife who fought a hard battle with cancer and lost. She was an artist and her final creative act- the one left unfinished- was a story about Christmas- a children’s book. Her husband, Robert Fishbone, lovingly and painstakingly finished it and titled it Onward is Best. What an amazing expression of love this man had for his wife.
I think we all can remember vividly the joy and wonder of Christmas; (or whatever is the holiday equivalent you celebrate). The kind of drooling anticipation and wide-eyed naive giddy wonderment that can only come from a moment of true happiness, joy, and peace.
Wonder and awe is a one-of-a-kind recipe- an old family favorite that flows from a loving, secure and safe home. From a trust filled place. These are the moments we come to measure all other moments of euphoria against, really.
And boy did the bar get set high at my house. Christmas time always meant- there is no politically correct way of saying this- mounds of presents. And what could a young girl want more than to be deluged with so many amazing gifts?
At our house, our tree would sit for several weeks bare waiting for Santa. No skirt. No lights. No ornaments. No drizzle or icing dangling. Just the naked smell of freshly cut spruce.
But on Christmas morning, no matter how early it was that I awoke, magically our tree was transformed. There she stood ablaze with the brightest of bright lights, impeccably dressed and adorned and under her bows she was filled to the gills with presents so tall and so wide and so deep and so beautifully wrapped.
For years, I bought the notion that ‘clearly Santa must have stopped at our house first and decided to run out looking for more milk and cookies before he finished delivering around the block’.
Except all the packages, each year, were addressed only to my small 4 person (+ 1 dog) family.
While the first few times I clearly remember were the absolute highest of highs- my euphoric bests- by the time I turned 10 it frankly embarrassed the hell out of me. And how dejected my mother could look when inevitably at some point I would mutter- ‘Mom, this simply is too much.’ How rude of me she said. How spoiled and ungrateful I was. How could I not want all that cool stuff???
You see there were no cooking lessons with Mom, or Christmas cookies together we baked. No sewing lessons either despite the fact she was a masterful seamstress and made all of her clothes and mine- designer quality clothes that filled up both our closets when I was growing up. Tennis lessons together lasted less than a year and shopping with her was even tough. She was always so critical of me. I was never good enough.
The one consistent way my Mom did show me love was through food. Oh, there was the time she taught me how to read. I struggled to read and I remember my mom spending hours with me to teach me phonetically how to. But once those early days were over, there wasn’t much else except those gourmet home cooked daily meals which I absolutely totally loved and adored. We shared our love through scalloped potatoes and beef wellington with port wine sauce. And of course those Christmas presents, oddly.
It has taken me a lot of years to finally see how drowning me in all those Christmas presents every year was a form of love- the kind she could express. Never mind that I went from feeling joy- euphoria- magic at Christmas time to an overwhelming feeling of self loathing and hatred for my lack of gratitude for not embracing it right then. In hindsight I recognize it was a pretty fabulous lesson- a gift of love- to learn that not everything in this world can be bought. It was equally a pretty fabulous lesson in how difficult it is to show true love to someone you really do love and who really does love you. We all think of what love is so differently. And yet, I have learned, love doesn’t always come packaged looking like something we want.
I did not choose my family circumstances. None of us do. They chose us. And no matter what curve ball life has thrown us- or how we feel through the holidays and beyond- Onward is Best. It is only through moving forward with our dreams- deepening our self-identity- and understanding the depth of our own emotions, and of those we love, that we truly can learn the lessons that are presented to us. It is up to each of us to decide how to make the most out of each and every one because they move us forward in our lives and how can this not be a form of love?
And for me, those presents taught me that more was less. They taught me that what I really want are precious moments to share not more stuff.
The holidays are about remembering what it is we really really want. And who we really really are. The holidays are about finding a way to show those we care about our deepest wealth- our wealth of love- no matter what form it takes, as long as it is sincere.
Merry Christmas Everyone! Let those who love you keep you moving forward. Indeed, Onward is Best.
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