Season's greetings

It was more than a stroke of fate that landed me this highly coveted spot on this highly coveted of days. It was a stroke of luck - bad luck to be exact. See, a few weeks ago in a fever-induced stupor, I sold my soul to the devil for a week's reprieve from writing. I was having trouble remembering my name, let alone writing it, so in a desperate attempt to save myself, I bargained with my co-worker. In a Nyquil-induced haze, I offered up my firstborn. He counteroffered: Keep the kid, just promise to write the Christmas Day editorial.

It seemed like a reasonable proposition at the time, and the Robitussin cocktail I had just downed was kicking in, so I accepted. After all, it was early December, and Christmas seemed like eons away. Surely, over the next few weeks, I would be able to conceive something warm, fuzzy, inspiring and appropriate to write about. You know, peace on earth; joy to the world; kumbaya; and all that.

But as the days ticked off, the tension mounted. See, although it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas, it just wasn't feeling like it.

This is partially my fault. Knowing full well we were going out of town for the holidays and that this would likely be our last Elmo-free Christmas for the rest of our lives, I was struck with a mild case of grinchitis. Of course, I prefer to think of it as the minimalist approach: no tree, no stockings, no giant blow up Santa to scare the neighbors, no Las Vegas light display, no nothing.

However, as Christmas drew nigh, it became apparent I was not the only one bitten by the humbug.

Case in point: a recent weekend getaway to one of our state's esteemed mega resorts. You'd think that after forking over enough money to comfortably feed a family of four for a month, a hotel guest could expect a little hot water to accompany her early-morning shower. But, the water that flowed from my $100-a-night faucet was a few degrees shy of hypothermic. I called down to the front desk to report the problem and was advised to let the water run because "sometimes it takes a while." Of course, I had been shivering in my skivvies doing so for the last 30 minutes. When I responded that at the rate things were going, I would be checked out and halfway to Durango by the time my shower was ready, I was met with more chill: "Good. That will be one less person to call and complain about the hot water."

I was tempted to point out that it did not behoove a customer service representative to insult a guest. But it was obvious that after a night working the graveyard shift in that stiff, corporate uniform, he was neither concerned with customer service nor the holiday spirit. And I, without the benefit of a shower, was too tired to care.

A few days later and half a state away, I found more of the same. In Bayfield, n'er-do-wells besieged outdoor holiday displays, smashing lights, brutalizing Mrs. Claus and doing God knows what else. A few days later in Durango, a shopkeeper told me of his run-in with a teen, who ran off with a healthy amount of free merchandise before the owner could catch him. In fact, it seemed everywhere I went, I saw people butting in line, snaking parking spaces, cutting each other off, elbowing, jostling, pushing and generally behaving badly.

Somehow the giving spirit of the holidays had turned into a battle of every man for himself. Screw politeness, there's only three shopping days left.

My disillusionment reached a peak last weekend. Suffering from a slight brain glitch that causes me to recklessly transpose numbers, I misdialed a phone number. As soon as the voice on the other end picked up, I knew I had goofed. My first instinct was to hang up, but I decided to do the adult thing and apologize.

Apparently, I had called at a really bad time.

There was an awkward pause, and then the voice on the other end grew surly and I heard the long, guttural drawl of the first consonant of an all-too familiar but entirely inappropriate phrase (the use of which would merit an "R" rating in this family-oriented paper).

Horrified that I had been verbally accosted by a complete stranger, I quickly hung up.

I was stunned. Could it be possible that I had called Satan himself? Was evil overtaking the world, causing supposedly civilized people to lash out at their neighbors? Had people become so desensitized by their own self-imposed holiday madness that it was now perfectly acceptable to indiscriminately attack others with the mother of all swear words?

Was nothing sacred?

It was then that I realized, that despite our efforts to economize, minimize and consumerize, there were still a few sacred things - things worth preserving and doing right, no matter what the effort.

No, I didn't run out and get a tree, string up lights or go into a holiday baking frenzy. But I did take some time to send off some well-overdue Christmas cards, with handwritten messages. And no longer did I hurry past the bell ringer, averting my eyes as if I didn't see them. I now stopped, sometimes twice at the same kettle, to cheerfully fish change from my pockets. I even found myself spontaneously breaking into Christmas tunes (in the safety of my own home with an audience of two: my dog and small child, neither of whom can object).

So I guess, in a roundabout way, this editorial is about peace and goodwill and joy after all. See, grinchitis may be catchy and, when left unchecked, could even become chronic - but it is seldom fatal. And, like many afflictions of the heart, often all it takes to overcome it is a stiff dose of one's own medicine.

-Missy Votel




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