Friday, December 23, 2011

Man vs. Machine: The Holiday Edition - The Final Stretch, Never Alone

It's so easy to forget, but it's always true that no matter what you've got going on, you're not alone. In "Those Are Marshmallow Clouds Being Friendly" (The Paris Review, December 22, 2011) Rachael Maddux describes how, like me, her holiday retail experience was shaped by the music.
During this time, my one reliable coping mechanism was to give myself over to the power of our management-mandated holiday-themed satellite radio station. I used to believe stores played incessant Christmas music to anesthetize shoppers. But now I’m inclined to believe it’s for the sake of holiday retail employees—offering a synthetic place for their minds to drift toward, away from the maddening, small realities at hand.
Yes, the same music machine I've been battling.  I've been wrong, all wrong.  War is nothing if not a breeding ground for regrets.  Everyone was so cranky about the arrival of holiday music, that I thought my challenge would be to still love it once the holidays were done.  Yet, whatever my initial motive, the end result was the same, I made it my enemy. I was mistaken to rigidly attempt to pace myself for the long-haul, as though I could mete out my fondness with precision control. It seems I should have relaxed and simply been thankful to have a friend with me at work each day.  It's right there in the lyrics of one of my favorite songs, "The world is your snowball, just for a song.  Get out and roll it along." (For the record: The Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin version of this song is the gold standard).

This could be post-holiday grief come early.  When you lose someone, it's natural spend a spell thinking of what more you could have done.  During all those early mornings alone on the dark, empty 3rd floor, sometimes as early as 4am to prepare the store for shoppers, I danced, whistled and sang along more than I'll ever admit.  Yet while I read Ms. Maddux's piece about the candy store, I had to pause and wonder if I had done enough.

But I did.  I did just enough. I showed up and was present when it was time, I'm not hanging on after it's over, and I did not embarrass myself overindulging on things like ornament earrings, reindeer antlers, or thinking that anyone wants anyone else to give them cologne as a gift.  It turns out, my relationship with the holidays is one of the healthiest and most functional I have.

Knowing the holidays, they'll show up next year, accompanied by exuberant and wistful music, and treat me as though I had never doubted them.  It's not a matter of the holidays forgetting, or choosing to rise above my behavior, they'll just get on with who they are and what they do.  And they'll let me do the same.  Or, like this year (and probably more years than I am aware), they'll actually help me do what I do.  Whatever it is that year.

Nope, never alone.