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Gratitude for what you have goes a long way at Christmas, in life

Updated: January 24, 2014 6:13AM



The snow was light and fluffy, and no sooner did I think, It’s going to be a white Christmas for once, then it began to rain, a cold, in-your-face sort of rain, beginning to wash the snow away, melting pristine mounds of smooth white into shrunken, spiky reefs of grime and garbage.

Merry Christmas. Maybe next year.

Christmas. A jewel with many facets: celebration, family, faith, community, lights, food, booze. And to each facet, a flip side: sorrow, rancor, doubt, loneliness, darkness, excess. They teeter-totter back and forth. Sometimes the good is up, sometimes it’s down. Here’s hoping, this Christmas, that your balance tips the right way — not a random process, I might add. Whoever you are, however tightly fate has got you, you still have a say in your holiday. Reach for the good side of Christmas, grab and raise it up.

Merry Christmas. I saw a guy walking up Orleans with a button that read, “It’s okay to say ‘Merry Christmas.’ ’’ I almost tapped him on the shoulder and snarled, “Well then why not just say it, if it’s OK, instead of making such a big deal out of it?” By the time Fox News is done with “Merry Christmas” the phrase will have the sting of “sieg heil.” Be self-absorbed and joyless the rest of the year; if you want to celebrate your holiday, celebrate it. To apologize is to suggest that anybody expects apology. Nobody does. We just live here too, if that’s OK with you and even if not. Display the respect you expect.

Merry Christmas. A time when you give things, and get things, and that can be tough, because, as anyone who has ever opened a gift knows, you don’t always get what you hoped for. “Always?” Try “often.”

Sometimes you do, with cries of delight, “Oh mom, that’s just what I want.”

And sometimes you just cry, holding up the lumpy cable knit sweater. “Aww gee.”

You don’t need me to tell you which group is better to be in.

Although . . .

Sometimes not getting what you want leads to what I call “Nineveh moments.” If you remember your Bible, the Lord tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach. But he doesn’t want that. Who can blame him? He wants to go anywhere else. So he flees. But you can’t always flee fate, try though you might. Some presents you can’t return.

Some you have to live with. Some you learn to like. Satisfaction runs smooth, from hope to reality, like an icy toboggan slide. One moment you’re on top, excited, then whoosh, you’re there, just what you wanted.

Disappointment jars but can be a gift, too, because it forces you to re-examine your desires. Now what? People remember the whale in the story of Jonah; they forget that, once Jonah finally gets to Nineveh, it all works out. So if this Christmas isn’t unfolding the way you’d like, if the gifts aren’t what you expected, maybe rather than complaining, you should just go to Nineveh. Go, see.

Merry Christmas. Sometimes it seems that the focus is too much on the getting, and not enough on the wanting. Because both are adjustable. Here the Buddhists have it right. Don’t try to be satisfied by making sure you always get exactly what you want. Disappointment awaits you there, because there is always another hill. You get This, and even while unwrapping it, you notice That, on the horizon. And off you go. Better to be satisfied by wanting what you get, even the times when it is very different than what you thought Santa was bringing.

Merry Christmas. I’m off until after New Year’s — if I don’t say it, readers assume I’ve been fired. Nope, just home to Colorado to visit my parents, who are doing fine but like to set eyes upon their boy from time to time.

That’s a gift. As are my own boys, and my wife and our dog. You can focus on what you don’t have, or on what you’ve got, and most people, if they do, realize they’ve got a lot.

Merry Christmas. The rain tapered off and the snow returned. It looks like it will be a white Christmas after all. A reminder that, if you’re patient, sometimes, when it seems like the world isn’t going your way, it really is, you just don’t know it yet. People pause this time of year and take stock, asking, “Is this the Christmas I deserve?” Whether you are celebrating in Cook County Jail or in a mansion in Kenilworth, the happiness or the sadness is still all in your head, and you have valid reasons to listen to either. Take my advice: Choose to be happy. Go to Nineveh.

If you don’t get what you want, you can shake your fist at the world and point tearily at the others, who got what they wanted. Or you can look at what you did get — a rather nice sweater, actually — and decide that maybe this is what you want after all. It might as well be, because it’s what you’ve got. Merry Christmas. See you in 2014.

Email: nsteinberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @NeilSteinberg



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