Santa Claus

The Santa of my childhood was magical and momentary. He was as real as his red suit. He never failed to deliver the presents on my list. Life was simpler. So much simpler.

Life is more complicated as a grown-up. It’s filled with more responsibilities, problems to solve, and expected etiquette. I sort through which responsibilities are mine to own and which are not. I do the same with problems. I still get stuck with problems that aren’t mine. Much etiquette seems outdated and that helps me ignore what I choose. I am in favor of doing what I want whether Miss Manners approves or not. Sorry, Miss Manners, that wasn’t very polite of me.

This includes seeing Santa Claus even though I am thought to be too old. I never set out with the intention to see him. In my defense, I didn’t even know he was going to be where I was shopping that day. When I found him, he was still the same as from my childhood. No, not the same. The older I become, the better he gets.

I found myself out on a cold, wet, windy day to a garden center and home decor gift store mainly because I wanted to enjoy the atmosphere of all the different themed Christmas trees they decorate. Meandering aimlessly around the store relaxes me. I pick out a favorite each year. This year it was one of the nature themed trees as it usually is with me. They all have appeal. The red and gold themed trees were festive. Red velvety ribbon wound its way around trees as garland. Assorted traditional bauble ornaments decorated others. Candy canes and gingerbread styled ornaments hung on branches of another. Wintry poinsettias interspersed with silver and gold ornaments bedazzled another with a sparkling star that glimmered on top. Even a silver tinsel tree looked beautiful adorned with shiny ornaments in blues and purples.

In the back of the store sat Santa and Mrs. Claus side by side on an iron patio bench, surrounded by a variety of smaller pre-lit trees that were undecorated. Both looked simply so happy, warm, and kind. Their eyes sparkled with happiness, warmth, and kindness. They looked like they stepped out of the pages of a children’s book.

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They looked how I feel when I take freshly baked cookies out of the oven. Or when all is well and I’m lost in thought gazing into the fire in my fireplace on a cold night. Or when I’m looking at the ornaments on my tree at home and remembering happy memories that each one evokes of family, friends, vacations, and favorite things that make me feel happy inside.

I passed them by on my first walk through the store. I am an adult. I don’t see Santa.

Except for last year when a similar opportunity presented itself when I was out of town in Milwaukee on a holiday outing.

No, this wasn’t going to become a thing. I walked slowly, marveling at how jolly and permanently smiley they both were. They were the epitome of what the Clauses should be because that’s who they were. A handful of store employees crowded around them and exclaimed an obligatory “Merry Christmas” in unison to have a group photo taken. I kept walking.

I walked more around the store, admired more trees, holiday decorative pillows, birdhouses, and strolled through the plant area with long tables of large poinsettias in addition to their usual plants and bulbs.

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I was in no hurry to head out into the wintry day of ick that couldn’t make up its mind whether it wanted to stick with rain or try to snow.

Perhaps somewhat intentionally, I ambled back in front of Santa.

No kids were waiting.

Okay, so this apparently has become a thing. Clearly.

I could have worse things than being compelled to see Santa.

Santa wanted me to sit on his knee. Of course he did. He’s Santa. Last year, I said I was too heavy. He insisted. And feeling like I was about five years old, I hunched my shoulders, bowed my head, and mumbled, “Okay, Santa.” A person does whatever Santa says and does not argue with him.

This year I was not argumentative but respectfully declined. Several photos were taken. I should be good for another year.

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Why do I need to do this? I’ve come up with two reasons.

One simple reason is I crave a return to an easier time in my life. Being a child again would give me a world where my parents were alive and well, a world where I could have a great time at school and come home and play, and a world where Santa always came through and brought me exactly what I asked for. It would give me a world where I didn’t know anyone who had died and I had never heard the word cancer. My sheltered world was pretty wonderful.

I have a desperate need to recapture this bliss from my childhood even if it’s only for a minute. It feels incredibly warm and filling. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

What’s my second reason?

Santa represents hope, belief, and goodness.

Hope, belief, and goodness are a few of the best things around. Each of us wants to possess those qualities and give them freely. We all want to hope for the best, believe in miracles, and share the good. We want these in abundance. Santa has them and we want to be like Santa.

Is this harder for me to do as someone living with cancer? Some days are harder than others, but we all have hard days. Some days I don’t think much has changed and other days I don’t recognize my life. I don’t see the hospital where I go several times a month for treatment as a hopeful environment. It’s sterile and problematic. I feel like I’m in a strange version of the movie Groundhog Day each time I’m there. I wonder what loser is going to ding my car with their door in the parking ramp and what repetitive hurdle I’m going to encounter again in a conversation about which insurance needs to be billed first, what I like to be called, or an important detail about my health that I feel isn’t being addressed. My 40s have not been how I envisioned them. How is this my life? Why did this happen? Like I said, some days are hard.

Other days it doesn’t seem hard at all. I wake up and feel energetic and excited about my day. I focus on doing what I can to be kind. Our world needs helpers and I can still be a helper without many of the restraints that dictated past actions. Thoughts wondering what others think or what lines I need to remain within in the professional world are gone. I can color outside the lines! And it’s good! Many things are easier to accomplish without rules getting in the way. Some days I just have fun planned and I relish in my fun because I deserve every ounce I can get.

Back to Santa representing hope, belief, and goodness and how it applies to my life. I have a lot of hope in research for new metastatic breast cancer treatments. I have hopes for many arboretum walks, meeting new physical goals, special trips, and fun times with friends. I believe I make a difference. I believe in education. I believe in democracy. I believe in God and science. There is a lot of goodness in the world. Santa spreads some of that goodness.

I believe in Santa.

Hope, Belief, and a Monthly Planner

In early January of 2017, I bought myself a new monthly planner for the year ahead. My main motivation was I wanted a different one other than the school academic monthly planner I had used. Every time I used my school planner, there was a visual reminder that I wasn’t there. This was before official retirement when my leave had been extended for the entire school year. I pondered maybe it would be a good step to transition to a different planner.

The first sign that this was good was it only took me about five minutes to choose which new planner I wanted. I grabbed five or six off the shelf at the bookstore and sat down and started comparing them. One was too heavy and had a magnetic snapping cover. It was going to take up a lot of space in my bag. Weekly planners were out because I liked looking at the entire month as a whole. My final two choices were between a planner with a blue floral cover I liked but with very plain inside pages, and a colorful, almost hippie style outside cover, with equally flower power inside calendar pages. It was all very cheerful and bright. I bought the colorful and cheerful planner.

I had bemoaned for months over whether I would continue my leave from school or return to teaching, and here I had been able to make a decision quickly and effectively. Yes, I know my decision concerning work was much more monumental, but it was also stressful. It felt good to make a decision quickly about my planner and know I was happy with my choice.

But there is more to the story. I remained happy about my new planner for days afterward. It became one of my favorite objects. People would ask what was new, and I’d tell them in great detail about my wonderful monthly planner. It was weird and a bit obsessive. Truly, I did have other things going on. Then I figured out why my planner was a source of such joy. The planner was about hope. People who are hopeful make plans and write them down. When I bought my planner, my decision had been made to extend my leave, and I wanted a planner not connected to school while I didn’t work there. I was going to make and keep lots of plans. I did just that.

My calendar has been fuller than ever these past two years. My new planner for 2019 has a few too many things already penciled in for an introvert’s liking. One constant for the coming year will be to fill each day with hope, and maybe try to schedule a little less to balance with my inner peace.

Hope springs up in the most unexpected places. Consider the book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. I expected a graphic, emotionally hard to read story of Louis Zamperini’s unfailing will to survive and beat all the cruelties of war and imprisonment. Throughout the book, I found myself wondering how in the world he managed to pull through and dodge death for another countless time. What I didn’t expect was to relate much on a personal level because my day-to-day life is so different from what Louis Zamperini lived. His resilience and strength really empowered his spirit. I had that in common with him. About halfway through the book, there was a chapter focused on his family’s beliefs that was powerful. You see, the Zamperini family always felt Louis was still alive after his plane went down and he was assumed dead. His parents still spoke of him in the present tense. This section of the book made me think for weeks about the intersection of hope and belief. Hope was a wish. Belief was a feeling. Belief persevered without proof. If your hope became part of your beliefs that you thought of as true, you then had this awesome force on your side to surround and support you.

Time and time again, I have needed to dig deep into my springs of hope. It happened a lot early into the cancer diagnosis when I was told why surgery or radiation wouldn’t work for me. There have been countless times when I have heard a medical NO, and always one more time than this where I have had to bounce back stronger and more hopeful than before because the hope in my heart said YES. There is often chaos and fear in NO. NO can be a very useful word. NO is a complete sentence all on its own. But here it carries a lot of uncertainty. There is always a path and hope in YES. YES carries lots of belief and promise.

Hope may make all the difference.

Never.

Ever.

Give.

Up.

Hope.

 

You are always welcome to leave a comment below.

What plans are you making?

How is hope part of your belief system?