Sunday, December 22, 2013

So this is Christmas

I've been thinking a lot about Christmas this week. I know, just in time, right? It hasn't replaced you-know-what as my number one think, but it has been on my mind.

The thinking hasn't been about finding the perfect gifts, or the same overwrought Christmas music playing everywhere you go, or asking people how they're doing only to be met with a list of things “I have to do” before Christmas Day, or even friends bracing for visits from family while making their relatives sound, to me, like people they wouldn't let in their homes if they weren't related.

Nope. I've just been thinking about Christmas in general and whether it means anything different to me because I have cancer this year.

First, I would say this would certainly be one of my more contended Christmases. I know that might be hard for some people to believe; it has the air of spunk about it and we all know how much I hate spunk. But look around you; having cancer while surrounded by people who love and care about you is far from the worst way to spend Christmas. Right? You don't have to look very far to see plenty of worse situations to be in during this holiday. You can even be glad I'm the one with cancer and not you. See how easy it can be?

Christmas first entered the picture back in early September when I was diagnosed and our treatment plan was laid out. The second course of chemotherapy would be right around Christmas. We had no idea what that meant, but I knew I didn't want my wife, kids or grand-kids to be lumbered with it during the holiday. And they didn't really have to be, as it turned out. My last oncologist visit on Nov. 30th was good news, and I don't go back til Jan. 2. There's a dose of gratitude right there.

When I say I've been thinking a lot about Christmas, I'm not kidding. For example, I've had plenty of time to think about the annual lament that the day is becoming more and more commercialized. But more commercialized than what, than when? I'm 64 years old and I don't remember a time when we weren't bombarded with commercialism at Christmas. And if we're going to look to back in the day...

...“Miracle on 34th Street” wasn't about a Santa Claus for a fictional department store, with a fictional parade which captured plenty of screen time, now was it? No, it was about Macy's which, despite a couple of shaky moments, came out smelling like a rose. Gimbles didn't do too badly in the end either. Product placement in spades before we even knew what product placement was!

I gave plenty of my thinking time to folks who say, “Well... It ain't like I used to be.” What does that mean? Indoor plumbing has ruined that after-Christmas dinner trip to the outhouse? Bob Hope isn't entertaining the troops and putting it on television anymore, his being dead and all? For me, and maybe for me only, it's exactly like it used to be, as best I remember. Good times, bad times, in-between times, putting too much pressure on ourselves to have the “perfect” Christmas. It feels like it always has.

There's a line from Emerson, Lake and Palmer's “I Believe in Father Christmas,” I think rings true: “Hallelujah, Noel, be it Heaven or Hell, the Christmas we get we deserve.” I do believe the Christmas we get we deserve. But while I used to relish the hint of cynicism in the observation, I now see the hope in it. Instead of being overwhelmed by it all, we should try to hold on to the bits that make us happy. We deserve those bits, large or small.

So, is this outlook of mine because I have cancer and it's given me a new perspective? I have no idea. Is it because I have a better sense than ever of what really matters? Possibly. If I hadn't spent so many years as a cynic, would I be better able to express myself at this particular point? Almost surely.

So, tell me Jim Arnold. What have you discovered about Christmas as you mark your first one with cancer? Well, after hours and hours of thinking, and looking at Christmases past, I can honestly say... not much. Not really. Certainly nothing to offer to anyone else. This year I think I am getting the Christmas I deserve and I hope you do too because we all face our own battles everyday and Christmas should always be a time of peace and rest for each of us. Merry Christmas, everyone.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere.