Fiber optic Christmas trees have not quite become all the rage, but there is a kind of rich quality to their kitsch-ness that, if only by assonance with Christmas, seems to work. “At any rate,” your save-the-planet neighbor will officiously muse, “At least they didn’t have to kill a tree for the holiday.” Also, the advantage of buying a fiber optic tree, especially one that changes colors, is that you can truly astound your spouse. I remember doing this a few years back. My wife was out of town for a conference in November. When she returned, I had the tree all set up and decorated—not just any tree, but a brand new tacky fiber optic tree that I bought at Walmart. Her jaw dropped, and if only for that moment of something like surprise and horror combined, it was worth saving the life, as it were, of a living pine. And virtually all of our friends and neighbors were both shocked, even mystified when during that festive season they came to our house, the house of a writer, to find the kind of tree that they felt did not befit such an “intellectual” household. The shock factor was definitely worth it.
But what could be more amazing than a fiber optic Christmas tree? I suppose a fiber optic wedding dress could be. Yes, they’re all the rage—or maybe they’re not, but at least as much “all the rage” as fiber optic Christmas trees are. Still, they have the advantage of 1) offending no one in these times when practically anything can offend anyone. A fiber optic wedding dress can’t really offend anyone, even if it doesn’t sit well with their taste. Certainly “offend” would be overstating merely transgressing anyone’s taste. Even grandma will have to say, “Well, dear, that’s very twinkly,” or something to that effect. And advantage number 2) the groom will have no trouble identifying the bride as she comes down the aisle. “Yep, that’s her,” he will think. Thirdly, the pastor can modify his question from “Who gives this woman?” to “Who gives this radiant woman?” or the like. And she will literally be radiant, or at least her raiment will. Fourthly, after the ceremony everyone will say, “She just glowed, didn’t she?” And they will never have to lie about that, as they will certainly mean it.
But, if she divorces and has a divorce party and decides to light her dress afire, then she will have to be especially careful, for fiber optic dresses burn, I would wager, much more quickly than traditional chiffon or lace gowns do. Which is a fifth reason to opt for fiber optic dresses: divorce rates could well go down, as no doubt fiber optic dresses will bear the warning label: “IN CASE OF DIVORCE, DO NO INCINERATE OR EXPLODE.” And some will even add the further admonition: “RECOMMENDED: DO NOT DIVORCE.”
So that’s the moral of this enlightening story: save a tree at Christmas and surprise your spouse (if you have one already) and, at the very least, shock your extended family and neighbors by buying a fiber optic tree. If unmarried, using that as a spring board, when you do get married, buy a fiber optic wedding dress; finally, avoid an exploding dress simply by not divorcing. Lesson learned.
You get up every morning, you go to work, you try to be as nice as you can to your co-workers, one of whom is that grumpy one—not the curmudgeon who is curmudgeonly simply to be funny, to preserve the appearance of a crusty persona, who has a coffee mug with an ominous warning such as those given below (my personal favorite is “Good morning, I see the assassins have failed” or, really, the one with the little bird)—but rather, one who is genuinely a grouch. The one you have verbally to dance around, you have to be careful what you say and, in fact, even when you say what you’re sure is the right thing, he—usually he—or she will find fault, will turn something positive you said or did into something negative by what seems to you deliberate misinterpretation. Indeed, probably most of us, have someone with whom we work around whom we have to be especially careful what we say, whether that person happens to be especially politically correct, seemingly always waiting to pounce with (at the very least) a disapproving look because something slightly un-PC drifted from the barrier of your teeth, or because they are the boss and they want everyone to know that they are the boss. They want everyone in the office or on the floor to know that you are below them, that they outrank you. Add to this a steady state in which you can’t have a good idea; add to that, if you do, they might just appropriate it for themselves.
Now if you’re not able to relate to that previous paragraph at this moment—for example, if you have a job for which you don’t dread going to work or even dread going into that certain person’s cubicle or workspace—then count yourself exceptionally lucky. And count yourself luckier yet if you can’t recall ever having that experience, if you’ve always had the kind of charmed existence whereby which you’ve gleefully gone to work without the slightest angst over organizational squabbling, never thinking “Gosh, did I say the right thing?” when you left someone’s office.
But I doubt many have that charmed of an existence. And for those of us who do not, then once the day is done, once we have done our job and followed our calling to the best of our ability that day in our comportment, words, and deeds, then the whistle blows, whether literal or figural, and it is time to go home. And there is nothing quite like coming home at the end of a long day, if indeed you have a home to go to, if you have someone there for whom you care and who cares about you. And somehow just knowing you have a home, a place where you’re appreciated just for being you—with all your faults, foibles, and fears—gives you strength to carry on, and renews your inner being so that you can get up the next day, take a deep breath and head off to work again with a fresh attitude, a broadening smile, and a hope for a better day, even with your crusty old boss or difficult co-worker.
Based on conversations I’ve had with friends whom I know not just in America but in many places in this dark world and wide, it seems to me that the world these days is caught up in the first paragraph. I mean that both literally—most of the folks I talk to have that person at work before whom they find themselves having to be especially accommodating and speak especially carefully—and metaphorically, for the world seems to be in a deleterious state. Maybe it has been heading that way for a long time now—I don’t know. But however that may be, it most certainly is in a negative funk. And here’s an idea why this may be the case: the world has lost a sense of home. Or perhaps it is rather merely that notion of home has eroded; when I say eroded, I do not mean that it has just changed, but I mean that it has declined, deteriorated. It has become a stuffy place, its air has become stale, its aura less than welcoming.
How so? Let’s start with what makes a home: that’s a family. Though a family is of course not specifically a physical space, it is nonetheless a place where you can breathe, catch your breath, take a deep breath for fresh air again. I spoke yesterday to a friend who has a twelve-year-old daughter. He loves his daughter and spent last Saturday with her. “Wonderful,” I said. Gingerly I queried about the rest of his family, but carefully suspecting that because he spent the day with his daughter that he was divorced—for otherwise he would have said “we” (meaning he and his wife) had spent the day with the child. As I suspected, he is divorced. He has a girlfriend; they’ve been dating about four years. She lives in Rome, he in Viterbo. They see each other once or twice a month, usually on a weekend.
Now I thought about his situation—and someone might say, “Who are you to judge?” and that person might well be right, but thinking about someone’s situation is not necessarily “judging” anyone—and as I thought about it, this occurred to me: inasmuch as his daughter lives with his wife (in Vetralla, a town or two away), he has no one to come home to. He goes to work, interacts with his co-workers, probably puts up with the one that no one gets along with, and then doesn’t have anyone to go home to. Maybe he has a dog or a cat, but not a person to talk to. And while someone might object and say not everyone feels the need for someone to talk to, I would suggest that the individual’s perception of need and the actuality of need may be different. Not everyone thinks they need to eat green vegetables. One can do fine with merely bread, meat and potatoes for quite a long time; but green vegetables are indisputably good for you and virtually everyone except children knows one should eat them, if they are available.
I’d like to close with another aspect of coming home that is missing from my friend’s life and from many lives: church. Church is a kind of spiritual home, a place that, for all its faults (just as a family has many faults) provides something like a larger home for a family or individual. Indeed, for single folks, divorced folks and for others who for whatever reason are alone, church can take over the role of refuge that family provides. You can go to church and come to know others there who can help you through the rough times. They, too, likely have bosses or co-workers who are difficult. They, too, know what it means to be lonely. They, too, know what it means to struggle with faith, to feel abandoned by God even th
ough we most certainly are not. And they can pray for you, with you, and over you. They can help you breathe. They become your family. Elaine Jakes rediscovered this reality late in her life at Stockton Presbyterian Church.
I leave you, my reader, with this final thought, not that work can be a drag and you should find some kind of relief, but rather that we all find challenges in the work to which we have been called, and we should seek inspiration to face those challenges. The root of the Latin word for “breathe” is in the middle of inspiration. Fresh air, a refreshing breeze can be found in family and faith. Go home, and breathe.