Thursday, December 22, 2011

Counting my blessings — UPDATED

This morning, I wrapped up what few gifts I could buy this year.  I hope someday I strike it rich so I can make it up to ma chère soeur Peggy, who lives 1,312 miles away and to whom I've been unable to give a gift for the last couple of years.

As for this year, I haven't got much for myself under the tree, and that's okay.  Because I've already gotten several gifts this year, gifts that can't be wrapped or bought on-line.  The best gift, of course, is still to come on Christmas Day, when I wake up to celebrate the Nativity with my family, my friends and my Church.

"O gag me with a spoon!"  I hear you retch.  But I'm quite serious.  Underneath the sarcastic, world-weary exterior, I'm very much a sentimental person — white Christmases, decorated trees, holly and ivy, carols playing on the computer while I type this schmaltz.  (Andrea Bocelli ... doesn't get much better, ladies and gentlemen, though I can take or leave Reba McIntyre on "Blue Christmas").

Cynicism is idealism given up in despair after confrontation with reality.  I've not given up hope, which saves me not only from cynicism but also occasionally from pessimism.  (Ah, Celtic Woman.  Singing in Irish yet.  If there's hope for the Irish, there's hope for the world.)

Speaking of all this music:  White Christmas is a pretty standard "Hey, kids, let's put on a show!" musical movie that doesn't present any of its stars at their best.  But other than the title piece, the only other Irving Berlin number worth mentioning is "Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)"; it's a song Fr. Chuck O'Malley should have sung in Going My Way or The Bells of St. Mary's.  (Barry Manilow singing "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear", backed by just his piano.  You really have to hate Barry to not love this arrangement.)

Count your blessings.  This has been a tough year for me emotionally, with the decline and passing of my brother Bob.  But one of the blessings, ironically, was being there for the end rather than someplace remote (my sister, bless her, tried to get away as quickly as she could, but it happened so quickly), and knowing that his long, brave struggle was over and that he's finally at peace.  (Again with Barry, multitracked a cappella, singing a very jazzy "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas".)

Although I've been out of work for exactly one year today, most of the last year has seen my writing turn from a sporadic hobby to an apostolate and potential career.  It's also provided me with friends and acquaintances from all over the place, spiritual nourishment from sometimes-unlikely places, and motivation to keep on the path.  (Celtic Woman again, with "The Christmas Song".  A colleen, your voice sends a shiver up my spine; I just wish I knew which one of CW you were.)

This wouldn't have been possible without support from my family, both financial and emotional.  My cousin Greg, in particular, has been in my corner all this year as far as my blogging goes, and my brother and sister have made it possible to keep putting gas in my car and driving it to interviews.  That I'm warm and fed when others are homeless and hungry is nothing small to be grateful for.  (Now it's the Chairman of the Board singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas".  Although I could reduce the playlist by choosing between arrangements, I like to hear the differences.)

Besides, it hasn't all been death and grief and sorrow and murder (there's an old Steve Martin reference).  Although the trip to Indianapolis and back was grueling, made more so by an unintended layover in Denver, it was also fun in its own way; besides, I got to see a couple of people I hadn't seen for some years.  ("Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer"!?  How the heck did that piece of s*** get on the playlist?  Quick — rinse it out with some Bocelli!  "O Holy Night" ... ah, that's better.)  Then my buddy Steve came down for Styx and Yes in concert together; while he was here, we visited the Capuchin monastery of Our Lady of Dallas — architecturally not bad, but we were there for Mass with chanting, a soothing experience.  (Harry Connick, Jr. with an offbeat rendition of "Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairies" ... always makes me smile.)  My friend Larry came down for Bob's funeral Mass, a great comfort, as did cousin Greg.  And seeing the Alamo and the Riverwalk on Black Friday was much better than fighting the shopping crowds at some mall.  (Bing and Bowie, "Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth".  A combination I would never have thought of.)

Tell me, folks — what are you grateful for?  And what do you want to do this next year, to be a gift in others' lives?

(P.S.:  Now I'm copying Jackie Evancho's Heavenly Christmas onto my computer and adding her to the playlist.  The girl's got unbelievable pipes!)

Update: December 24, 2011
Yesterday, Mom and I received a food basket from my Knights of Columbus council.  Spiral-cut ham already baked.  A fresh pineapple (I have to ask my brother Ted if he wants to try that recipe for grilled pineapple soaked in jalapeño-infused tequila one more time).  Caramel corn ... about enough there for all three Lord of the Rings movies shown back to back.  A tin of chocolate cookies.  And — och, the splendor of it! — a gift box of O'Mara's Irish cream with two tumbers.  (No, it's not Bailey's, but I've yet to have a bad Irish cream.)

A little side note:  If you put ice in Irish cream, you are not only a bad person but an infidel and a barbarian; you must shrive your soul and mend your ways lest you be condemned.  I'm told there's no Bailey's in Hell at all, at all.

So there's one other thing I'm grateful for:  Not just that my brother Knights thought of us for this Christmas, but that I allowed Dennis Pettit, who was our Grand Knight that year, to talk Bob and me into joining.