Maybe it’s just because I take extra time off for the Christmas holidays. Or maybe it’s a sign of advancing age. Whatever the reason, I find myself increasingly savoring small things.
These days I notice my senses more and the news they bring me. I relish the thrust of water from the shower head waking me up with negative ions. I tingle as the loops of the bath sheet snatch the damp from my skin. I inhale the fragrance of the bake shop when I buy my Sunday bagels. My eye spots patterns of light and color wherever I look.
Each day has its hallmark—unique details that shift as the hours pass. The mind’s eye records a myriad patterns. Each image pauses momentarily on my retina before giving way to the next. As I drive by, the commuter waits for his ride with hanging head. His choice of coat varies with the weather, but his posture, weary and meek, stays the same. I greet the familiar sights throughout my day.
I see grackles pecking at the close-cropped lawn of the golf course, which bears stripes of sienna and pale yellowish green at this time of year. The naked winter trees outside a shopping center stand wrapped in fog, giving the fringes of the commercial wasteland an almost moorish beauty. The last bits of greenery—cushions of moss at a sidewalk’s edge and a bit of vinca still blooming in my garden—contrast sharply with the earthy colors of the season.
Christmas Eve and Day have a magic that has somehow survived despite the merchants. Moments come and go more slowly, incrementally. I am conscious of the patina of time as this Christmas Eve enters the pantheon of holidays past.
There are cherished rituals. I reserve my favorite flavor of coffee, Starbucks Anniversary Blend, for December consumption with stollen, a reminder of a German friend (though the sweet bread the stores sell is a pale imitation of her homemade version). I put frankincense and myrrh in a pan on the stove. The exotic smoke speaks of the Middle East and somehow adds a spiritual dimension to the festivities. I light candles, beeswax and bayberry.
A decade or more ago I developed the custom of collecting Christmas music, generally a CD or two each year. Now I have a fine collection of Boston Revels concerts celebrating different cultures’ solstice celebrations.
I have Handel and Vivaldi and carols sung by famous voices long gone, like Enrico Caruso. I have lutes, harps, and guitars, operatic voices and jazz singers. I have an old favorite from television broadcasts of my childhood: Gian Carlo Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors, which I know so well that I scarcely need the CD at all to play the music.
As I write, the morning advances. I must go to the market for fresh vegetables, review my recipes to check that all ingredients are ready to hand, wrap presents, and call a few close friends who live elsewhere. It is 9:10 am EST, and the day is still young.
In fifty minutes I can listen in as the King’s College Choir commences this year’s edition of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on the other side of the Atlantic, where twilight is descending on Cambridge. There is magic in the miracle that lets these voices so far away reach me as they sing. The sound arriving displaces all distance, even time, and reminds me that beauty and not just love is a weapon against suffering and despair. I am hoping that the new year brings us all greater peace and more widespread joy and prosperity.