Sunday, December 25, 2011

First Christmas

I have a lot to be thankful for this year. Another year with my wife and in good health (minus a currently balky back, but the steroids are TOTALLY taking care of that). I love Christmas more than any other holiday, though, and as we've gotten into the season it has been a treat to watch my newborn son experience it for the first time.

He loves staring at the Christmas lights, both on the tree and in the garlands and ceramic houses that sit atop the entertainment center in our living room. I love sitting there watching him just stare at those things, in awe of what lights can do to his visual senses.

I didn't really even ask for anything this year in terms of presents; it would have been selfish given how enormously blessed we were this year. My wife sketched it out pretty beautifully in her last post and I won't duplicate that (read it - it's good), but for reasons I've already gone into my son is a miracle baby to me. Life itself is such a miracle because of all the random things that have to go right to make it all work, but then given all the other challenges we were facing it always felt improbable-to-impossible that this was happening.

This hasn't ended since he was born. I still look at him and marvel at all the ways he experiences the world for the first, and the ways he teaches me things about myself as I watch him struggle and learn.

I mean, just look at the grin in that photo. Kind of hard to get worked up about much else.

Steve Jobs had it halfway right when he said death is life's change agent, that it forces you to take stock about what you really care about and purse that with your whole being. I think having a child does the same. I find myself more motivated in everything - being a professor, being a dad, being a husband - because there is so much riding on this. His well-being and ability to navigate this crazy world are riding on me being my best. I have figured out a way to squeeze more from my normal set of motivations.

I've also become a bit more in touch with my own weaknesses and my own mortality. I've done the math in my head (protip: NEVER do the math). When he's my age I'll be 72. There is a chance I won't be around for his biggest moments and triumphs. It saddens me but makes me realize what I have is the time I have, and that I want to make the most of it.

The biggest example of how I've been changed by this probably came as I was walking through Target a couple days ago looking for a couple quick stocking stuffers and such. As I walked the aisles, looking at shelves and shelves of cheap plastic crap I found myself making mental comparisons. Nothing compared to him, to the late nights of holding him as he fell asleep. Nothing beats those killer smiles he gives me when I change his diaper or hold him on the couch. Nothing at all.

In that moment it reaffirmed what I've long known: we don't need any of this stuff. I'm already giving him the best gift I can give, and that's my love. And he returns that every day. Grabbing a bunch of random toys off the shelf would only complicate that; I've been conscious about not teaching him a connection between love and material goods.

I don't want to knock buying gifts, obviously. We've been enormously blessed by folks around us who gave us things in the early going that helped us get going on this journey. And of course we buy gifts and give just as others do. It's just that I had such a hard time looking at how commercialized the holiday has become. Bill O'Reilly complains about a "War on Christmas" but the culture thinks little of materialism creeping into a holy day. Religious observance is restricted to the beautiful candlelight service we attended tonight, while the other days between Thanksgiving and Christmas are a buying frenzy.

Christmas is a beautiful season because it's a reminder that God walks among us (literally the translation of Emmanuel). My favorite moments are the ones of quiet solitude where you realize the extraordinary meaning of all this. Staring at the Christmas lights or a snow globe, realizing how small we are but how big our opportunity to do others good truly is. Christmas isn't magic. It's a state of mind that we can have 12 months a year.

I hope my son grasps that someday.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

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