In May 2013 a columnist by the name of Craig Wilson took his final bow after a buyout from his employer, USA Today. He wrote a Wednesday column called “The Final Word” for more than sixteen years. His weekly writing – regardless of subject matter – provided readers a unique, thoughtful take on even the most take-for-granted aspects of daily life.
Two of his columns have stood the test of time…especially at this time of year…even though one was published after a New Year began. As we begin the Holidays I thought it would be enjoyable if I dusted these off. One is about the emotion we feel this time of year…how the simplest of decorations can create the most profound feelings. The other speaks towards the (in)sanity of materialism. It gives perspective as we prepare to exchange items accompanied (hopefully) with emotion. Both columns will hopefully bring a smile to your face and a reminder of what really matters not just at the Holidays…but every day.
A Glow In The Darkness Is The Best Gift Of All
Every December, a neighbor of ours opens his dining room shutters and lets in the world.
A floor-to-ceiling tree, laden with ornaments and white lights, fills the bay window. Underneath it is spread an assortment of antique toys. Original Raggedy Ann books, a model train engine from the Pennsylvania Railroad, a fire truck and an assortment of old stuffed animals. An elephant. A bear. A well-loved floppy-eared rabbit sporting a winter sweater and seated in a wicker sleigh, ready to glide.
The window, which is right on the sidewalk and perfect for viewing, has become a holiday tradition in the neighborhood. Like many, I make a detour on my nightly dog walk just to pass by.
I know there will come a Christmas when the display won’t be there, but until then, I happily take in the annual offering, just as I used to take in the mesmerizing holiday windows years ago at Sibley’s department store in Rochester, N.Y.
The magic of our neighborhood window, however, is that there’s nothing commercial about it. My neighbor offers up the display every year purely for the joy it might give a passerby, not to make a sale or hype a product.
It’s perhaps the simplest of Christmas gifts, which also makes it the best.
When I was walking Maggie the other night, I watched as a young mother and father pointed out the various toys to their daughter. She was maybe 3 or 4 and in her father’s arms. From the look on her face, you’d have thought she was in another world. Maybe she was.
And then the trio strolled away, happy perhaps in the belief that they’d just had one of the most pleasant and innocent experiences of their hectic holiday. A serendipity of the season.
When I was growing up in the country, Christmas displays like my neighbor’s window were not abundant.
But I remember being impressed that someone would take the time and effort to hang, say, a single strand of multicolored lights around their barn door. Or wrap a lamp pole with lights, aglow at the end of the lane. A lonely beacon in the night.
My dad did the same.
Christmas after Christmas, he would run the world’s longest extension cord across the snow-covered front yard, down to a tiny fir tree that proudly stood sentinel by the side of the road.
He covered the tree with what seemed like thousands of lights, and every night at 5, he turned them on with all the flourish of lighting the tree at Rockefeller Center.
I’ve often wondered what people thought as they drove down this country road, in the middle of nowhere, and came upon a solitary tree glowing in the December darkness.
Maybe they thought it was the prettiest thing they ever saw. Maybe they saw it as a gift.
Maybe they realized someone was just sharing his joy. Nothing to sell. No agenda in mind. Something done just for the joy of it. Like my neighbor’s magical window.
And maybe that’s what it’s all about.
Think You Need More Stuff? Just Say Baaah
By now most New Year’s resolutions have bitten the dust. Lose weight. Stop smoking. Get a new wife. All just memories.
But one remains for me: to simplify my life.
It’s an ongoing quest, not so much a new resolution. I’ve written about it before. Buy less, play with the dogs more, let the Type A’s zoom by in their BMWs on their way to their McMansions. I’ll just be content with what I have.
Easier done, of course, when you have enough. Money, that is. But how much is enough? The March issue of O magazine asks that question.
Since I had written about the same topic not that long ago I was curious to see what Oprah’s take was. She invited a number of “writers, thinkers and financial experts” to share their thoughts.
One said materialistic people were more likely to be depressed and anxious. Never having been a big consumer that made me happy.
One said Europeans have the right idea by using more time to play than work. Never having been a European that made me sad.
And another said the first question everyone should always ask about a purchase is this: Is it a “need” or a “want”? It’s almost always a want. Put it back on the shelf.
But what I thought were the most interesting comments came from George Kinder, founder of the Kinder Institute of Life Planning, who says we earn three times as much as our grandparents did, yet we’re not any happier. He then asked two simple questions:
If you had only 24 hours left who did you not get to be?
What did you not get to do?
I found the questions almost cruel. He says they hit bedrock because what they really ask is: What’s profoundly meaningful to you? Have you been wasting your life making money when important things such as your family, your community, your “spirit” have been ignored?
Most of us don’t think about our “spirit” on a daily basis. Sad but true, we always use the excuse that we don’t have the time. We’re too busy making money, making deadlines and making sure the kids are wearing matching shoes, the groceries are bought, the bills paid, the bed made.
We always seem late for an important date.
We are also fools.
One of my Christmas presents this year was a little toy lamb that stands on four spindly black legs. On its white and curly side is written but one word: Simplify.
I put it on the windowsill above the kitchen sink so I could see it every day. And there it stands, spreading its message morning, noon and night, It’s the loudest lamb I’ve ever heard. It seems to know when I’m about to do something stupid, buy something I don’t need, keep something I’ll never use.
It has become a daily mantra. It follows some advice a reader shared with me. She attached it to her e-mail, as if an afterthought:
If it doesn’t breathe, it doesn’t matter.