Generally speaking I am not a big fan of cold weather. I suppose the only time I truly enjoyed blistering cold was when I was a kid; snow was something to play in and not shovel. This morning I felt the cruel bite of Winter as I opened the patio door to let the dogs out. A dusting of snow covered the paving bricks of the patio as I experienced the bite of below freezing temperatures across my face.
Often Winter is used as a metaphor for hard times, even for death itself. Trees lose their leaves, grasses turn brown, frost fills the air, the sky is often cast in gray tones and the bone crushing cold that never seems to end becomes the norm. Even worse, for the next six weeks or so the airwaves are filled with holiday music, tv and radio commercials for holiday stuff (I swear if I see that eBay commercial for the freaking pony one more time…) that we didn’t even know we might need and it is not yet Thanksgiving. Is American greed so great that we cannot celebrate one holiday at a time?
The most peaceful holiday I can remember was spent about 8 years ago in Rome. Much to my surprise, because, I suppose, I am used to the way Americans celebrate Christmas, there were hardly any overt signs that it was Christmas time. There were no lavish decorations in the streets, no overt signs of the holiday season in stores, no constant berating Italians to buy stuff they didn’t want or need. Life just went on at a normal pace. Oh, I do recall in the hotel lobby a table with a wreath and candle but absolutely nothing more than that.
I cannot walk into a Starbucks without being assaulted by signs of the holiday season. Christmas blend coffee served in bright red holiday cups began on November 1st. All I ask is that we learn to celebrate one holiday at a time. Thanksgiving, that unique American holiday, is celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November and should not be diminished by a garish, highly commercialized push toward spending more money than necessary.
In high school, a long time ago, I remember reading the short story, The Gift of the Maji, by O’Henry. The story told of the selfless choices made by a young married couple with no money as they made choices to sacrifice for each other at Christmastime. The husband sold his pocket watch so he could buy his wife a comb to hold her long hair in place while the wife cut her hair to buy a fob for his pocket watch. Gifts are not things that are purchased without forethought, are not things bought but, quite the contrary, gifts are given without the need for reciprocation. In Jewish tradition, the greatest gift is given anonymously, with absolutely no expectation for a return. Once reciprocity is expected the gift is no longer one that can properly be called a gift. This is also the essence of the fundamental ethical obligation; an asymmetrical presentation of the self to the other without reservation and without expectation. The other needn’t even know of the presentation itself, rather, the presentation is made simply by being present in the world.
Unlike the 68 prior Novembers I have experienced, I am particularly aware of the fact that November is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month this year. Small wonder. I find a bit of irony in the fact that my prostate will be removed in November. But I also find myself reflecting on things that are most important to me: family and friends. I will put up with the intrusions that come from the greedy motives of commercial monopolies as they work to extract their pound of flesh. This year I promise to spend not a single unnecessary dime during the holiday season, rather, I plan on providing the intangible gift of life, of being present for those I love; DYANU, it will have been enough!