The Slow-Cooked Sentence

Seasonal SNAFU*

Rachael Conlin Levy
Illustration by Richard Scarry. Image courtesy of Mykl Roventine.

“Does this mean we’ll only get two Christmas presents?” one son asked.

The family was sitting at the kitchen table, discussing ways to shift the focus away from the glorious pile of presents under the tree to a season of giving. Already, our children had agreed to choose from their own toys and books an item or two to give to a child who will not receive much, if anything, on Christmas morning. But now things were getting dicier: We wanted our kids to each pick a nonprofit group so that friends and family had a choice of giving a donation in lieu of a gift.

“Does this mean we’ll only get two Christmas presents?” he asked again.

“I don’t know if people will do this or not,” I said.

Banking on Santa always pulling through, the kids made their selections and a family letter explaining our effort to chip away at the commercialization of Christmas was sent. Story finished, right? Hah! Our invitation to help shrink this season of excess was read by some as offensive and judgmental. Why, family asked, were we telling others how to give?

My first reaction was disbelief that we were being criticized for trying to teach our children charity and moderation. Then anger: Fuck you and fuck Christmas! I thought. I poured myself a glass of wine, grabbed a chunk of fudge, and hid in a bubble bath until the Buddha found me. Or, more accurately, words from “Buddhism for Mothers,” by Sarah Napthali.

“Anger in fact paves the way for future difficulties. For starters, it’s not good for our karma: every time we act angrily we increase the chance we’ll act angrily again, conditioning ourselves to become belligerent.”

I got out of the tub, dumped the wine down the sink and chocolate in the trash. The phone rang. It was one of my sisters, and I as shared my story, she shared what she was learning from the classic self-help book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie: That I had everything to gain from saying sorry, from seeing how our letter had hurt feelings, generated stress and forced others to defend themselves.

“Never begin by announcing ‘I am going to prove so-and-so to you.’ That’s bad. That’s tantamount to saying: ‘I’m smarter than you are. I’m going to tell you a thing or two and make you change your mind,'” Carnegie wrote.

“Tomorrow, before asking anyone to put out a fire or buy your product or contribute to your favorite charity, why not pause and close your eyes and try to think the whole thing through from another person’s point of view? Ask yourself: ‘Why should he or she want to do it?’ True, this will take time, but it will avoid making enemies and will get better results…”

I needed to say sorry — not for trying to make do with less at Christmas (which I believe to be a worthwhile goal) — but for our insistent invitation that others join us. So, still feeling bruised, I called and apologized.

“When you feel hurt but do not hurt the other, you are truly victorious,” Buddha said.

And for the night, the true spirit of Christmas triumphed.

*Definition found here.

One response to “Seasonal SNAFU*”

  1. Kyna says:

    What a nice Christmas story.

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