Shannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News
I’ve written one column that still prompts emails from readers, years after it first appeared. The emails started again last week, over Thanksgiving. “Thank you for writing this for people like me,” most said, before going on to explain why the holidays were hard on them.
I got sad news today, so I thought I would share this message one more time, for people like me.
* * *
It’s difficult for me to walk through the greeting card section this time of year. It makes me miss my grandmother. She counted the cards she received for her birthday, on Dec. 24, and for Christmas.
I liked to get her ones with glitter.
She died seven years ago, just shy of her 100th birthday.
I grew up thousands of miles from her, so cards were how we connected, no matter the season.
This year was no different. I still peruse the “grandmother” section as a way to remember. I found a perfect one for her: purple pansies with sparkles. I whispered, “I miss you,” and put it back on the shelf.
I noticed another woman struggling to hold back tears. She picked up a card, read it, then closed her eyes and held it against her chest. Strangely, I was comforted knowing I wasn’t alone in my sadness. My Pop used to talk about God’s math: When you share a joy, it’s multiplied, while shared sorrows are divided.
There was nothing I could say to ease her sadness or mine.
Sometimes a hard thing is just a hard thing, no matter the math.
A bit later I stood behind her in the checkout line. Neither of us had cards in our baskets. I hoped she’d noticed she wasn’t alone in feeling lonesome, and waited my turn.
Distracted by a phone call, I didn’t hear her exchange with the clerk.
Some people take Christmas spirit to the level of a mission. The clerk was such a missionary. She wore reindeer antlers, a sparkling lights necklace and a “Jesus is the reason for the season” pin. All good.
She had one of those Crest smiles. As I put down my purchases, I wondered about the lonely lady from the card aisle.
“Well, I guess she’s not a Christian,” the cashier said to me, gesturing to the woman making her way out of the store.
“Really? Why?” I asked.
“I said, ‘Merry Christmas,’ and she just looked at me.”
My Christmas spirit gets dampened by missing people I loved very much; it’s not any antipathy toward the nativity story I loved hearing Pop read on Christmas Eve after Cornish game hens and a candlelight service. I looked at her. I wanted her to hear me.
“Maybe it’s not the ‘Christmas’ she was having trouble with. Maybe it’s the ‘Merry,’ ” I said.
The cashier cocked her head like my Schnauzer’s when I ask him if Timmy’s in the well.
“See, maybe she’s looking for a job and can’t afford gifts for her grandchildren. Maybe she got in a fight with her sister during Fourth of July weekend and though neither one can remember what it was about, they can’t seem to say they’re sorry. Maybe she’s worried sick about her son who just deployed for the seventh time. Maybe her husband’s gone and this is her first Christmas alone. Maybe she’s waiting for a biopsy report and it’ll take another few days and she doesn’t have insurance. Maybe her mom is in a home and doesn’t recognize her and she doesn’t know what to get her because, well, what’s the point?”
Her stunned reaction made me feel like I’d shot a whole team of reindeer out of the sky and burned down the barn in Bethlehem.
That wasn’t my intention. I’m blessed to share the holiday with a family that loves way bigger than the presents we exchange. I don’t hate Christmas, I just know that the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” doesn’t apply to everyone every Christmas.
The clerk paused. “I never thought of it like that.” She seemed embarrassed. I hated that I’d taken her around a corner she didn’t know was there.
“I just didn’t want you to think she wasn’t Christian because she didn’t return your ‘Merry Christmas.’ For some people, it doesn’t matter if you say that or ‘Happy Holidays.’ It’s the ‘merry’ and ‘happy’ that has them stumped.”
I handed her my money and she handed me my bag.
“Merry Christmas,” she said.
I said the same. I was grateful she wouldn’t need to drown herself in eggnog as a result of my diatribe.
I skated across the parking lot to my car. I listened to my friend Steve Heimel’s radio show, “Talk of Alaska,” as I drove. It seemed like every corner of Alaska was calling in with Christmas greetings to one another.
One woman sent her wishes to the homeless and those with less. I got weepy.
I don’t feel guilt from my blessings because others go without. I feel a righteous need to right what has been wronged. All pain can’t be alleviated. Some heartbreaks cannot be healed.
But many can.
If there is a “War on Christmas,” it isn’t being waged by manger-bombing atheists. It’s by poverty, pride, deployments, loneliness, lack of affordable health care, worry and uncertainty about the future.
So it’s not Christmas or Holidays I wish you. It’s Merry and Happy.
Shannyn Moore is a radio host on 1480 AM in Washington, D.C., and Netroots Radio.