Here’s hoping all of you readers made the best of small business Saturday and Indie Friday, and got fabulous gifts for those on your list while keeping your money working hard in the community. If not, it is not too late. Phoenix area residents can find something for everybody they love at the little strip mall at the corner of Guadalupe and McLintock. Changing Hands has books, amazing scent and skin care products, beautiful textiles and the best trinkets for tickling the funny bone as well as superb customer service. Then two doors down, Hoodlums has Vinyl, CD’s and music memorabilia to finish the list with equally awesome customer service (and I recommend always buying at least one CD for yourself, to listen to on the way home of course). Also in that same parking lot is a Trader Joe’s to pick up some tasty holiday treats.
Now, all this talk of shopping fun has me feeling my empty wallet again.
I know it is a tough season for many, myself included. Scarcity looks so different to so many people, and its face changes from person to person and even in the same life from day to day. Scarcity for some of my friends is not being able to buy the latest tech toy on release day, or having to take coach on a plane, or booking an inside berth on their cruise. Scarcity for others that I only know from news stories or volunteer work, is holding their hungry child in their arms not knowing when they will eat again or where they will sleep tonight. For me, and most of us in America, it is somewhere in the middle of those extremes.
Three weeks ago scarcity for me was realizing that I had to pare down my gift list to just family (chosen and blood), forgoe any medical care or massages and just pick one charity and then absolutely stick to my budget so I could pay the most important bills and still do Christmas too.
Then over Thanksgiving the check engine light came on in my car and a wee bit of metal began to show in the tread. Suddenly scarcity was all about keeping my car on the road and paying the rent. Presents not yet bought would be made, and I scrambled to pull up some extra work to meet mandatory expenses. But scarcity was still what answers for abundance most places in the world.
Then last week my baby sister died. She lived in Tennessee. We had been estranged for awhile due to lifestyle choices.
Today scarcity is somewhat about not being able to afford to help enough with the funeral or travel east to say good-bye; but mostly today, scarcity is about a world without her jokes and piano playing or any chance that she will ever find her way back from the dark places her choices had taken her. Money only crosses my mind these days if I am actually trying to pay a bill or put gas in my car. Scarcity today is the universal experience of one more permanent absence of someone loved.
We weren’t close these past few years, addiction of any kind and hers was flowering, creates a scarcity in our lives of love and integrity that makes maintaining relationships impossible. I am a little bit angry with my sad, angry she chose the pain and violence and high over hope and struggle and dailiness.
Our lives are the culmination of consequences of good and bad choices, so my choice today is to forgo the anger and instead to remember when we were little.
I remember when I was nine and she was in preschool and very afraid of the dark. At night I would tuck her giraffe into bed with her top bunk and climb into my roll-away and compose just for her stories about princesses and time travel and sea beasts; frequently featuring prominent pieces of whatever book I had just finished reading but always, always, always a story where goodness and love won.
I would tell stories until she was alseep. It kept her from crying and kept the real time monsters that inhabited our childhood from hearing her and hurting her; sometimes I sang and the words or music created a bubble of light and safety and happy.
I remember us as a young teenager and tween making music and spinning fantabulous stories, she had talent. I had enthusiasm. Music and jokes were her weapons and during the black periods of my early adolescent angst, she could always make me laugh. Music and words were again our bubble of safety and light.
I choose to remember us as adults finding a swing set in the park and singing our childhood ditties at top volume while playing “swing high as you can and jump,” and making up stories about exaggerated adventures of family members and old friends trying to out funny each other. We sang and spun our tales and jumped from the swings for hours in the dark (without breaking anything, all part of why I believe in magic) until neither of us could breathe we were laughing so hard, safe as always in our bubble of music and words.
She is not the first death of someone I love this year. Not even the second.
So scarcity this Christmas is not about what I am getting or what I can afford to give, it is mostly about those to whom I won’t be sending a Christmas card or buying a present because no postal service delivers beyond the grave..
But the dead aren’t gone completely. It wasn’t just my own early travels into the world of words my sister and I shared, it was stories others had written. So this Christmas I am re-reading again Charles Dickens, and Madeleine L’Engle, and Jules Verne and remembering telling her the stories, and helping her get through the first time she read them to herself, and hundreds of walking trips together to the library.
I am listening to Christmas Carols and remembering her learning to play them on the piano while I fiddled with our Dad’s ukelele; singing beside her in the church choir, even the year I wrote the script and she was Mary with the swaddled stained plastic baby doll from the Sunday School nursery (the real baby cast was extremely cranky that day and we had to substitute at the last minute). In music and books she will always be alive to me safe and happy.
And finally I will remember my baby sister every time I here Linus’ song and see the Snoopy dance.
Perhaps that is why my go to gift for those I love is books and music, because once they are shared they become a time capsule in which those sharing the experience can return to when they need a time of joy.
My family tree is large and a bit more Kudzu than tree and cancer or cumulative bad choices have ended many mortal sojourns; those who remain are often far in travel distance, but memories of shared times are as close as my Ipod, bookshelf or DVD player, and the fact is I have all three of those and the working brain power and senses to appreciate them.
This Christmas my tires are changed and my check engine light back on, my bills a bit late, and gifts not bought before the vet bills, doctor bills and car repairs wiped out my cushion will either be made by my hands or bought with the proceeds of whatever writing jobs I may still scrounge up but I no longer feel the scarcity of things so much as the presence of so many people and pets I have had the opportunity to love.
And yes, I am sad too. A positive approach to life begins with admitting the existence of suffering and its acceptance. Loss and death and grief are our mid-winters and cycle around for every warm summer season of love. Which also means that every dark time is not only temporary but able to be lit just a bit by the candles of music and words and the tinkling multi-colored lights of loves traditions.
And that is why I do not feel so much scarcity as gratitude this morning, and finish again with Tiny Tim, “God Bless Us Everyone.”