Today I tried a different approach. I got up early and went straight to the computer, telling myself there's still time to shop online if I do it right away. By early afternoon I had ordered exactly one thing: a pair of pants for myself. I hadn't found a single gift item that seemed right for anyone on my short Christmas list.
By mid-afternoon I was feeling discouraged, as I always do when time is short and I want so much to buy meaningful gifts for the people I love. So I gave up and took a nap. Then I read for a while. After that, I fed the dogs, then warmed up leftovers for my own supper and ate it while I watched the local and national news.
About that time it occurred to me that tonight's the night the garbage can has to be rolled out to the curb, but there I was--still in my bathrobe. I hadn't dressed all day and wasn't inclined to bother with it when there were only a few hours left until bedtime. Instead, I watched this week's results show on The Voice and waited for it to get fully dark outside.
Finally, I gathered up the trash, threw my very long, dark winter coat over my robe, peeked through the window to make sure no neighbors were outside, then lugged the trash bags to the garbage can. I'd just started rolling the can down the hilly driveway when I began to hear loud music and short blasts of sirens and horns. I stopped to look for the source of the sounds and was surprised to see a fire engine rounding a nearby corner. The big red truck was all decked out for Christmas. Recorded carols blasted out of loudspeakers as it passed slowly along the road in front of my house, its multitude of lights flashing in celebration of the season.
I, who had sneaked outside under cover of darkness, was caught right there, alone on the hill, in streams of colored lights. And you know what? All of a sudden it no longer mattered that they could see me dressed in my oversized coat and incongruous summer sandals or see my hair that hadn't had a brush run through it in hours. What did matter was to let them know that I could see them, to let them know they had touched me.
Thank God for our firefighters. I'm sure they've seen much scarier sights than the apparition of an unkempt old woman emerging from the darkness, waving her arms wildly, traces of sentimentality glimmering in the corners of her eyes, and a smile on her lips almost as bright as their emergency lights.
Fire Department - Gonzales, Louisiana
Photo dated December 18, 2006