*Say it with me: I can’t believe it’s already the holidays. Two weeks ago it was February. My neighborhood Rite-Aid has had Christmas decorations on the shelves since the end of September. And only twelve days into November, the Saturday afternoon bustle at Whole Foods felt suspiciously like folks making a run on turkey dinner goods. I suppose many of them were; it’s almost Thanksgiving. Already.
By the way, if you feel as if the year has come and gone at the speed of light, it’s only because you’re a grown up. Adults have infinitely more things to stuff into a life and seemingly less time in which to do it.
You won’t hear a kid rhetorically gasp, “Where did the time go?” Kids live in a different time zone. Proof? The unofficial arbiter of a child’s time, the school classroom clock. The big hand on school clocks first tick forward and then, in a nanosecond, click backward. I know this because in my childhood, I held vigilance on many a classroom clock. To a kid, 30 minutes feels like an hour–which is how long the 30 minute animated TV special, “How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” felt to me when I used to watch it as a youngster.
Remember how long it took the holidays to arrive when you were a kid? Haley’s Comet came back around sooner. I’d begin counting down the days until Christmas right after the 4th of July. It felt like Biblical time. It took forever.
All that changes when you grow up. The older you get, the more the time appears to fly. And so here we are, nearing the end of a year that felt more like six months.
The holidays are a time of unfettered merriment, and Lord knows we can use some good cheer. It’s been a rough year. The economy is in shambles, people all over the world have taken to the streets in angry protest of one thing or another, while terrorists threaten to blow us all up. There is war coming to a country near you. Meanwhile, America’s political system increasingly resembles a bad “Saturday Night Live” skit.
With all that going on, let us use this season to get that Feeling. More than the shopping, the food, the decorations and the gifts, the holidays are about a feeling.
It’s like, say, Friday. Or Sunday. What differentiates those days from the rest of the week is how they FEEL to us. Historically, because of what happens on Friday–people get paid, it’s the portal to the almighty weekend–Friday has a subtle euphoria about it. Even when it isn’t Friday, we’ve been known to say that another day of the week “feels” like a Friday. We know what Friday feels like.
Sunday feels like peace and introspection. Places close for the day. Sunday represents rest. Replenishment. And Sunday feels this way all over the world.
Correspondingly, the holidays have their own distinctive consciousness. The spirit of compassion and understanding permeates. There is the tactile sense of joy, absolute and uncut. There’s this quiet glee, glazed in gratitude. And hope. The holidays are about love.
It’s time for us to find the feeling again.
You’re not going to find it on sale at Target. It isn’t being hawked by an online retail site with savings of twenty percent. You won’t get it simply by listening to Yuletide songs or watching, for the umpteenth time, “It’s A Wonderful Life” or “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” though seasonal entertainment can compliment the feeling. You’re not even going to find it in your place of worship.
That’s because this feeling comes from within. No one has to put it there; it is already in you. No batteries required. You simply have to summon it. One way you do that is by counting your blessings. Play a little game with yourself: without considering what you DON’T have, think of all the positive aspects of your life. Do this. No matter how bad things might seem, we’ve all got plenty to be thankful for.
You can jump-start the feeling in other ways. I was sitting in my car in line at one of those drive thru car washes, feeling lousy for reasons I can’t even recall now. The attendant approached my window to take payment for the car wash, when impulsively and inexplicably, I hauled off and…told him I was paying for the car behind me as well.
I hadn’t looked to see who that might be, but after the attendant informed them their wash had been paid for, a tiny middle-aged woman climbed out of the dinged up SUV’s passenger side and with a slight limp ambled over to my window.
“Things are tight for us right now and every little bit helps,” she said a bit sheepishly in broken English. “We really can’t afford to wash our car, but I said to my husband, ‘We can’t afford NOT to. At least having clean car will make us feel better.'”
In my mirror I glimpsed him behind the wheel of the SUV, a full head of gray in sunglasses, smiling his appreciation. “We were arguing about whether to stay or go,” she continued. “He was just about to get out of the line and drive away, when you did this.”
And just like that, the three of us found the feeling. Materially, it wasn’t much. The feeling is always bigger than the transaction. They were humbled and grateful to receive, and it felt absolutely wonderful for me to give.
This is the season for it–for holding the door for a stranger; for giving that parking space, rightfully yours, to someone else. This is the season for not being so hard on yourself.
That car wash encounter? Well, that happened back in August. But then, the Feeling feels good any time of the year.
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected].