Photo from Uheart.com
I had a severe case of Christmas card inertia this year. I wanted so badly to do something different but I’m so graphically inept that I had no idea how to go about creating anything on my own. It was like my entire body was lodged in cement. So I sat there. And sat there. And sat there. And pondered not sending out a card. Or sending an e-card. Or sending a video message. And then I sat there some more. In the end, much like I knew I would, I went with the same old-same old. It’s fine but I don’t really love the wording that comes on many of these cards (P.S. Tiny Prints — call me — I’ve got some ideas). That’s why I was kind of blown away by the first card that came in the mail this year. It simply said, “All You Need Is Love.” So simple. So accurate. So sweet.
I was also recently forced to see a really ugly part of my personality. It was in regards to our next-door neighbors. They are a couple in their early 50s and, quite frankly, not the “cool” neighbors I had hoped for when envisioning our first house. They are older than us and their kids are out of college. They talk about religion freely, which has always made me a bit uncomfortable.
He’s a contractor and, thus, has helped us out with numerous projects in our house while being very, very loud. When we first moved in, he’d wake my son when he was napping nearly every time he came over to our house. Any new mom news this can cause severe loathing if not murderous thoughts. I had only one word to describe him: gruff.
We also used him to project manage our kitchen renovation, and my skin would crawl as I’d sit at my computer and listen to him talk to the workers. I found him to be very condescending, but let’s just say I didn’t complain when the kitchen was done under the time he projected.
Fast forward to these days, and they have asked us several times to come over for wine. We are always busy (sometimes it’s a lie but, more often, it’s true). His wife — who is about the nicest person on the planet — has had cancer nearly since we moved in, but has always been rather nonchalant about it. I knew it had gotten worse recently and had sent them food, etc., but hadn’t seen her in person in quite some time.
Last week, my husband and I had planned a much-needed night out on the town. About three hours before the babysitter was due to arrive, he dropped the bomb on me. The neighbor had cornered him in the driveway and asked us to cover over for a glass of wine to celebrate Christmas. I was so disappointed. I had helped out a friend that morning, and was already thinking I had done my “good deed” for the day. I was ready to be selfish. Me time. Us time. Adult time. I relented but, by the time I got some things done around the house, I only had about a half hour for the visit. Shawn had already brought the boys over, and I headed over by myself.
When I walked in, I was stunned to see that the wife was set up in a bed in the living room, looking extremely sick and tired, but happy. She smiled and waved me into the room. I hoped my face didn’t give away my shock and sadness. The husband was wearing a Santa hat. They were celebrating. Despite what was facing them square in the face, they were celebrating! They were joyous. And festive. And happy. Surprisingly happy.
While the rest of us drank wine, she explained to me her pain regimen. At one point, she asked the husband to get her something in the kitchen. While he was gone, she told me that he’d been doing so much for her while she’s been bed-ridden. He overheard her as he reentered the room, saying, “What are husbands for?” She smiled at him sweetly, and I had to dig my fingernails into my hands not to cry.
They ushered us out for our date, and even sent us along with a bottle of wine for the holidays — one that he knew we liked from when he’d done work at our house. I was stunned by so many things. How someone could be so upbeat while in so much obvious pain. How they could be celebrating the season with all that lies ahead of them. That I was the lowest of the low for avoiding them like the plague for so long because they weren’t my *dream* neighbors.
I also recently went to a “celebration of life” for a friend’s mom who was taken far too soon from cancer. While I hadn’t had the good fortune to meet her before she passed, the stories told about her belied a life filled with tons of love, wonderful adventures, and an abundance of laughter. It’s odd that you can feel that you know someone simply by the stories told about her. Her spirit filled the room and, in lieu of tears, people wore smiles from ear to ear.
Cancer is a wicked, wicked bastard that has taken too many good people far too soon. But I’ve had two great lessons in love this holiday season, at a time when I truly needed the reminder. Life is a celebration and, even when faced with the worst of the worst, it’s how you react to its curveballs that defines you. In the end, all you need is love.