There were two kinds of Christmas presents when I was growing up, one was the big thing you had to have like a coat or new spectacle frames and then there were what my mother called “sillies”, small presents which initially filled the stocking I was sad to say goodbye to, at the age of nine.
I was also aware from an early age that Christmas wasn’t always unalloyed pleasure and joy. Bad things often happened to people around Christmas time, a sort of way of reminding us that you can’t have it all and even when you think you might have, you haven’t.
The other day in a shop where I only ever seem to look, never having seen the clothes I seek in it, a woman who works there made it clear that not only did she know who I was (as you get older, this is rare and if you any sense of self preservation, like me, you cease to expect it) but told me the most delightful story of her parents, both in the throws of divorce from their respective first marriages when they met, and both listeners to a radio show on people’s lives that I fronted for 14 years. “Are they still happy ?” I asked hopefully. “Oh yes” she said. “Never looked back – and they’ll be thrilled to think I met you.” I sent them my very best wishes.
That is a Christmas present. It would be hard to define, it wouldn’t fit in a stocking, it may be silly to anybody else but it’s wonderful to me.
And on a bus I sat next to a startlingly youthful woman in her fifties, now alone with grown up sons (“I’m taking care of my grandchildren this week”), highly qualified in nursing, who put herself forward for special training in dealing with MRSA – one of those bugs that frighten the life out of us all when we or those we love have to go into hospital. “I’ve made mistakes in my life” she said “ especially in relationships but that’s all gone now. I’ve just let it all go. I live in one room and I study – it‘s wonderful.” And again I was reminded that Christmas is more than a day or a dream, it’s the marker of another stage of your life and going forward is always preferable – even if it’s tough – to looking back.
A friend I will call Ginny (it’s not her name) has spent years being the fall guy for her family. She picked up for them all emotionally and financially, one after another over the years. In time, the habit of making do spread out into her emotional relationships with other people and finally into her work. She took a job which sounded fine except that the travelling alone was exhausting and precluded the improvement of any one of the other things she might want to address or looking for another job – she was tired out and even if she wasn’t – there weren’t hours in the day.
She decided against the extension to her contract. Yes, her partner was all for it but she did it. And for the first time is ready to look for what she wants, to use that pile driving energy for herself rather than anybody else or any other situation. It’s my best Christmas present so far. I’ve known her for 20 years and it’s grow up time.
And then I received this via annalog:
“ Hi Anna, I was listening to the radio while travelling in the car and caught an appearance of yours on Off the Page on R4 Extra …a repeat from some years ago on the subject of money. I just wanted to tell you I thought you spoke very entertainingly, intelligently and movingly” … “and I sincerely hope life is a little easier for you now.” So I wrote in appreciation.
You couldn’t wrap it, it doesn’t need tissue or gilded ribbon.