Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Night the World Didn't End

Just half an hour from the new year, I find myself thinking back to the moment we passed out of the twentieth century and into the new millennium. In fact, I've been thinking about that moment quite a lot today.

The world, you may recall, was projected to end that night...or if not to end, to be transformed into something we'd never anticipated and wouldn't know how to live within, a place without electricity and other services we'd come to think of as necessities (all because someone back in the sixties or seventies forgot that there would one day be a 21st century when he was programming the world's computers).

Despite the impending collapse of our infrastructure, my husband and I took our kids downtown to First Night. First Night apparently occurs all over the country, and is a bit different everywhere, but our version that year included ice sculptures and street musicians, puppet shows, bands, hot chocolate, story time, live animals...something for every age. Our kids were three, seven and nine, and so we bounced from children's stories at the library to live animals to art. Then my sister and her boyfriend joined us, and we threw some live music into the mix.

My sister had a boyfriend then that I loved; he and my husband were friends. Ten years after their breakup, my daughter still calls him "Uncle Matt"--she called him that at his wedding two summers ago. We were at the animal show when they walked in, some amazing specimen of big cat on the stage seeming far too powerful for the small room, and my sister took my breath away. Eyes wide and dark from across the room, in a brand-new gray wool coat over head-to-toe black, she was so beautiful that she momentarily eclipsed everyone and everything else in the room.

At midnight, the seven of us walked out onto the bridge over the river and watched fireworks in the snow. I remembered, while hundreds of people in the street counted down to the new year, that it was all supposed to implode at midnight, and I couldn't have cared less. If the world was going to end, I couldn't think of a better time or place for it, happy children warm in our arms, eyes toward the sky, my husband and my beautiful little sister at my side. If the world was going to end, I couldn't think of a better note to go out on.

Of course, life went on. The wide-eyed nine-year-old who had never seen an ice sculpture before is a mother this New Years, the boy who lay down on the chairs in the animal show is in high school, and my baby in her father's arms on the bridge will be thirteen in just a few weeks. Sometimes that makes me smile and sometimes it makes me sad--but never has a New Year's Eve passed since that I haven't remembered that moment on the bridge.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Best Thing that Happened to Me This Christmas...

was that I got my car stuck in a snowbank.

It's no secret that I'm no fan of Christmas, and even on the "I could really live without this holiday" spectrum, this one is falling pretty low. My mother was sick for the couple of weeks leading up to Christmas and ended up cramming all of her shopping into a couple of terrible weather days just before Christmas. I'm really stressed about something important at work, and the temperature was well below zero during the week leading up to Christmas, and my Christmas tree was in storage. All around, it just wasn't going well--nothing catastrophic, but thejoyo of the season was lacking. Even my daughter, a holiday junkie, said a few days ago, "It's just NOT Christmas."

Of course, not being Christmas would have been all good with me, except that none of the stress or expense or running in a thousand directions went away just because it didn't seem like Christmas. By Christmas Eve morning I was encouraging myself with the fact that it was all going to be over any day and we could go back to normal.

In fact,when I headed out yesterday morning, I wasn't feeling too bad. The weather was, finally, beautiful. The snow was deep and soft and I was off on my last errand--one that wouldn't take l long at all.


But here's the thing. Within minutes of my getting stuck, a neighbor I've never met came over to help, and he stuck it out to the bitter end. Then a complete stranger stopped and offered to help push--a stranger in a $60,000 car who I'd never have expected to get out and push a Neon out of a snowbank. Then my landlord arrived to shovel (a bit too late, I think) and started digging out UNDER my car. Then my dad came, and when he found that he couldn't pull the car out with his Jeep, he called a friend with a 4 x 4 truck...who showed up in minutes and yanked me out like he was plucking an apple off a tree.

In the end, though I felt bad about the time it had eaten up for all of these other people and all of their efforts, I was feeling like the time had been better spent than if I'd just hopped off to the store, because I was really overwhelmed by the sense of community and giving, and even by the teamwork among these people who didn't know one another and came together to solve my problem.

I was really starting to think that I DID dimly remember what Christmas was supposed to be about, after all.