Buy. Nothing. More.

Posted by jdg | Friday, December 17, 2010

If I could go two months back in time and show myself a video of what an effort it is to get my kids goretexed and in the car in all this snow and cold here on December 17, 2010, I might ask myself why anyone would live here, why anyone would ever go through this, why we do. But we do. Those of you fully acclimated to warmer climes might ask the same questions should you see what our roads look like, or our car mottled by salt with its undercarriage crusted with frozen stalactites of slate-colored backsplash. The other day I had to scrape an inch of ice off the windshield so my wife could get to work, while cars fishtailed down our road to avoid the old woman driving her motorized wheelchair the wrong way down the middle of the street through one of the two vehicle tracks in the snow where pavement was visible. You might certainly wonder how we put up with this for three or four months of every year. Just somehow we always do.

I am often amazed by the human capacity for overcoming adversity---what we'll put up with before we give up---and yet I am equally amazed by our overwhelming aversion to the challenges that make us great. As much as we can put up with, we often have to put up with very little, and what little we do put with often leads to the sort of complaining that makes me wonder if a medium-sized zombie apocalypse wouldn't actually be a good thing to help put our out-of-wack priorities back on track. I agree the parking situation at the mall is unacceptable, honey; perhaps we should tweet something about it but oh shit look: ZOMBIES!

I am an unapologetic consumer of war stories and disaster porn. I am humbled by old stories of pluck and mettle. I would rather read a lousy novel about the hardships of turn-of-the-century immigrants than a lauded novel about the first-world problems of some dysfunctional modern Manhattan family. It is all about context. I am always seeking reminders that I have it better than I realize. Sure, it may be miserable outside, but at least I'm not a Russian infantryman at the Battle of Stalingrad, warming my hands in the guts of a dead comrade like he's a tauntaun. I have a wife who pays the heating bill and a graying union suit I look for any possible excuse to wear. All I need to do is think about that old union suit and a jug of corn whiskey and any concerns about the weather drift to pleasant thoughts of  belligerently asserting to my wife that it would certainly be worse with zombies, and then ultimately passing out to hibernate for the night. 

* * * * *

The passages of Hemingway novels I savor most are those where he describes those tiny culinary joys in the midst of hardship: the crust of bread, that bit of cheese, a taste of wine. I can't imagine any morsel in my kitchen tasting as good as he described those bites taken while hiding from Franco's armies. In this season of ludicrous excess and temptation, I try to remind myself of that.

When I was a child, I remember my mother driving us to church and telling us some impossible fabrication about a poor family she knew when she was growing up. This family was so poor, at Christmas time the people in her town would donate rags and the mother would embroider the initials of each one of her fifteen children under the age of ten on a single rag and this "new" handkerchief would be their sole gift (unless you considered that lone orange on their mantle, from which each child was given a single membranous segment). This was, of course, a cockamamie admonition towards respect and gratitude in prelude to the orgy of giftwrap and gewgaws that marked the beginning of the last week of December. Still, part of that lesson stayed with me all those years: no matter what you get in life, don't forget you are one of the lucky ones.

We're trying to make the kids almost all their gifts this year. I have still found myself buying a thing or two here and there; it's a parental urge almost impossible to ignore, to imagine them deeply satisfied at noon on Christmas. There are times during the day I find myself thinking, But what about stocking stuffers? And then I repeat to myself: Buy. Nothing. More.

But of course I will.

Today, in the car, on the way home from preschool: Let me tell you a story about this family I knew when I was growing up. . .