black friday and the season of wishing things were different

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So black Friday. That was a thing. I woke up at four to go make a run on some cheap ladders. While I was there I actually witnessed a fistfight between two middle aged men over the quantity of candles one person could take at a time. Not to mention a bunch of people talking to salespeople like they were six years old. All while the stores blasted tinny Christmas music. I kept a chart of the songs and every single one mentioned buying presents and/or Santa. None of the songs mentioned the fact that all this crap we don’t need is probably cheap because somewhere down the line someone isn’t making anything close to a living wage. To appropriately understand the day, you need to picture me standing outside a donut shop in six degree weather wearing a thin jacket and a tank top and cringing while my family made fun of the Asian accents of the people we got donuts from and referred to my neighborhood in Oklahoma City as ‘the hood’ for the 537th time since Tuesday. I wanted to write some kind of blog post about how irritated I was with everything, but then three things happened:

  1. Someone a bunch smarter and better with words than me wrote one. And there was much rejoicing. (http://samdavidsonbaylor.wordpress.com/2013/11/29/black-friday-advent/) <— read that
  2. Another person with a higher IQ than me pointed out that cynicism is my problem. Not anybody else’s.
  3. This story that I’m going to tell you

So. So I’m standing in Menard’s (it’s a northern thing. Don’t google it, because it’s a like a scarier version of Wal Mart). And they must have had some kind of killer sale on basketballs because everyone I saw was carrying one. I was standing in line behind a woman and her husband, and they had their hands full because carts were kind of scarce. Anyway. So the lady drops the basketball they had, and it goes rolling away. The guy isn’t thrilled. He cusses and goes to get it, but she stops him and says, “Don’t bother. It’s not any good to him if you’re never home to play with him anyway.”

 The point of this is not the kid’s athletic development (although he could be the next Russell Westbrook if they’d just gone and got that ball. We don’t know. Maybe I should have chased it down. Sorry Thunder). The point is that I learned a lesson sort of inadvertently just then:

*Buying that thing isn’t going to fix that other thing.*

I know. I’m eloquent. But at five in the morning that’s what my brain came up with, so I’m sticking to it. In the case of this family, buying the kid a basketball wasn’t going to fix the father son relationship that was apparently a bit strained.

That’s me, by the way. Maybe it’s you as well. And as much as I want to roast this whole ridiculous day/season…I can’t. Because actually my heart is kind of starting to break over it.

We love Christmas because it’s the season of giving. We think if we can get someone the perfect gift it might someone strengthen our relationship. We think if we can just have that one really cool thing (the battery powered socks, maybe) then our lives will fall into place (everybody wants to be pals with battery powered sock kid). There’s so much hope that the togetherness will stick, and that maybe we will wake up in March still hanging out and baking cookies together. Maybe if we just had this jar of sprinkles the size of a trash can that would happen for us.

Maybe we love Christmas because we’re empty. We’re tired and bored and depressed. We’re fighting and fuming and being passive aggressive. We’re self-medicating and overworking and slipping between the cracks. Alone. We’re doing so much of this alone. I know this is me. I am alone in this room full of family members, less than half of whom I can name. And I always think I can fix it. I think I love Christmas mostly because for a moment in the glow of the victory in the Christmas Tree War (which is a really great family tradition that I don’t have time to get into) wearing black with my face painted I can squint and pretend like this year will be the one that my family gets close. That we support each other and talk to each other and all that jazz. Maybe for you it’s a different moment, or a different thing that you’re chasing. But then the tree gets burned and the scabs fall off and you shelve the chainsaw for another year (seriously…it’s a good story). You put the good china back in the cabinet until next year and you throw away the boxes and wrapping paper (and probably at least one crucial piece to at least on electronic device). You work the extra shift and work where the people returning all the junk someone bought them treat you like an animal. And maybe you steal a kiss and a promise that things will be better on New Year’s Eve, but then by February you’re sitting in your living room eating pizza in the dark so your neighbors will think you’re at the gym.

And every year it’s the same damn thing. No matter how much holly and jolly and presents and tradition we throw into the hole, we wind up empty again.

I love you (in theory. In reality, I usually judge you). And I’m sorry (Yes, really). I know how it feels when you just *need* to hope that this is the year things will finally be different. But buying that thing won’t fix that other thing. Particularly if we never sit down and tell each other what it is we wish was better. And, side note, buying it at a quarter of the price from a sweatshop in the Philippines most certainly will not fix that other thing.

The only hope we have of fixing it is this homeless refugee baby with the audacity to claim that His homeless guy way of operating is more fulfilling than our rich young ruler MO. That’s what is actually terrifically amazing about Christmas. There was this homeless baby with a teen mom, and He never had much of anything, as far as stuff goes. But He came and talked about loving each other and serving each other. He talked about rest. And peace. He had this little family of friends, and they actually felt sorry for the people running the show. Which makes no sense, actually.

But there’s this whole backwards way of doing things where you empty yourself and are filled and stuff like that. Where you go above and beyond for a stranger for no reason (this could, hypothetically, mean that there are no more strangers. Which makes my heart warm a little bit) And the way I see it, I cannot possibly get any worse off. There is nothing left for me to break. Maybe the good news is that the dragon skin can come off and you can start to look like your real self again. The self you were made to be. (what? It’s a good metaphor and I’m not sorry). But maybe it’s going to be kind of hard. And maybe I’m not sure what to do about it.

Maybe I’m sitting outside a donut shop in the cold and wondering why I keep trying. Maybe I’m looking at all these people getting all this stuff and I’m judging them without even realizing that they’re just doing this for the same reason I am. I’m not in Nebraska for any reason other than this:

I want things to be better. Desperately. I’ve dreamed the same dream since I was four years old. And every year it falls in around my years. That’s my other thing. And I’m just like you. I’m shopping and gesturing and saying anything to try to stop the bleeding. But I’m not willing to talk about it. I’m not willing to forgive unless I get an apology first. I’m not willing to empty myself of me in hopes that something better might take over.

After all, I’m not the problem. It’s all this stupid crap and my stupid family and stupid America and the stupid media. I’m not the problem…(sarcasm. I need for that to be entirely clear)

Well…I’m definitely not the solution. But this year…I mean…look. I love you. Regardless of your stuff or your time or your looks or your shopping habits. Let’s not be strangers anymore. (I’m serious, by the way. Try me.)

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