Americans have it all wrong. We work too hard, so much so that when we do speak about pleasure — "élan," "gourmand," "joie de vivre" — our own language is not always up to the task. Even the productivity-crazed Germans have a special term for a stroll in the open air: "Spaziergang." Bless them. They have a long word for everything. But we, too, slow down for the holidays.
Driving home through North Baltimore, I remember that the pine trees have been there all this time —months, millennia — after outlasting the fall leaves.
It is a season of spectacle. When I run, each breath chooses its own shape. The sky is white. The earth is stripped bare. And I can see things more clearly.
I will gladly stand in the cold to watch the lighting of the Washington Monument.
While hunting through the shops on 36th Street, I will stumble upon at least two people I know and dream of out-gifting my siblings (but not my mother).
I will sit slack-jawed, like the title character himself, while watching the O'Hara girls in the School for the Arts' production of "The Nutcracker." Lily will play young Clara. And Nell? A tiny reveler? A mouse? To me she is "my favorite hat." That's what I called her that time I babysat the two of them. The little one climbed on my shoulders, folded her hands on my head, and posed. Twenty years from now, I will taunt them with that picture. Their future fans will want proof that I knew them. Their silliness looks like magic on stage.
I will attend parties and wear velvet without apology. I will respond too enthusiastically to questions about work, then remember my sister's gentle admonition to cede the conversation. I will not drink, but people may note that my cheeks are red — from laughter.
I will email 500 people just to remind them how much I love them and give to the favorite charities of those friends who ask. I will grant a few small wishes, eat far too much, and spend the last days of the year living like a minor feudal king.
This is still pretty new to me. Growing up, some of us started our Christmas shopping months in advance. Lay-away: We made down payments on clothes. And nights were not as calm as they are now: the whine of brakes on tired buses, blaring speakers, dark figures you couldn't make out until it was too late.
To me, these are memories, but some still deal with this and much more. While I celebrate, some people are hungry. Many are cold. Others might yet lose a loved one — a month from now, not all of those firecrackers will be firecrackers.
Because you have dispensed your greatest gifts unevenly, I am now accustomed to a level of safety and comfort that many still don't know. But I hope the imbalance is only temporary. As we each take stock of the past year, here I am with my arms full, so, Lord, please make me part of the solution.
I have a bit of space and a voice. Help me examine us all at our worst and imagine us at our best.
Help me clear room for people to laugh, learn, think, remember and cry.
Use these stories to turn strangers into friends and friends into allies.
The issues of the day are so complex. Give me clarity. And help me listen with compassion to those who have never been heard.
Jesus lived and died believing the world was worth fighting for. Help me speak the truth. And as I struggle to trace the invisible line that binds us all together, God, please steady my hand.
You've staged great scenes with small spaces. Two thousand years ago, you set a baby in a trough, and the world's still talking. I'd just like to be of some use in one city with a few column inches of type.
I believe scarcity is an illusion and poverty is a lie, because we have everything we need in each other. Make me a broker in that exchange so that one day soon we will all know peace.
Lionel Foster is a freelance writer from Baltimore. His column appears Fridays. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @LionelBMD.