During this deep, thoughtful deliberation with myself, I did my second favorite thing: people watch. You can probably guess what my most favorite thing to do in life is. On second thought, maybe you can‘t.
A mother and her daughter decided to take a break and sat down on the bench next to me. The girl appeared to be somewhere between the age of 16 and 18.
The mother started talking to me about the fine gifts she purchased for her friends and husband. Her daughter said she had already picked out her new iPod, and later in the day she was going to pick out her new car. Half kidding, I asked, “A Lexus, BMW or Volkswagen?” and she seriously replied, “A Mercedes.” Her mother frowned at her daughter and said, “I think it’s more like a used Kia.”
While the daughter was pouting over which car she’d receive, I told her the most memorable gift I ever received came from a little 5-year-old girl and it probably didn’t cost more than $3. The frowning pout on her face softly changed to a curious smile and she asked, “How can that be?” While the mother continued her shopping, I told the daughter about my very special Christmas gift from the years past in this very same crowded mall:
I was meeting a friend for lunch at her beauty shop. I don’t know why they call it a beauty shop. Most of the women I see look worse when they come out than before they went in.
I quickly grabbed a vacant spot between a little girl and a woman waiting to be sheared, I mean, beautified. The 5-year-old girl was cradling a small basket filled with chocolate candy and popcorn on her lap. Naturally, she was trying to fit her hand, candy and popcorn in her mouth at the same time. After she somehow retrieved her empty hand from her mouth and her jaw could no longer keep up with her appetite, she realized I was sitting next to her, watching her every move.
She was constantly fidgeting, squirming in her chair and curiously peeking at herself in a mirror mounted on the wall in back of her. The mirror distorted her image, similar to one you’d see at a carnival. As she reached out to touch her image in the mirror, she couldn‘t figure out why her head seemed to be separated from her shoulders. I joined her and we were both making funny faces in the mirror –– the mirror did the rest. She giggled and laughed then handed me a few chocolates from her basket. We bonded immediately.
The distorted images reflected in the mirror provoked a series of displayed emotions by the little girl. She was bewildered, curious, happy, sad and sometimes frightened by the illusions. She kept trying to touch the reflections thinking the distorted images were real and couldn‘t understand why they were not. It was like sitting next to my own daughter, many years ago.
Her mother was getting the full beauty treatment- believe me she needed it - and had the loudest voice in the busy lair of hair. She was bragging about all the money she spent on Christmas presents for her friends, distant relatives and children.
She proclaimed her wealth by announcing what kind of car she owned saying, she hoped no one scratched her new foreign sports car in the parking lot. Then she mentioned how she had to buy a new car because she “just hated” driving her husband’s big new SUV. It probably wasn’t color-coordinated with her hair, nails, purse, shoes or natural ignorance.
Finally, the arduous, impossible task was finished. She was professionally styled and, yes, probably didn’t look any better than she did before seating herself on the adjustable chair of fantasy, illusions and wishful thinking. She quickly grabbed the little girls hand and headed for her chariot of opulence in the parking lot.
As they approached the door, the little girl pulled her tiny hands away from her mother and ran over to where I was sitting. She neatly closed the bag of popcorn and with somewhat saddened eyes, touched each piece of chocolate in her basket, as if she was seeing them for the last time. She set the basket on the floor then cautiously lifted her tiny outstretched arms and gave me a big hug. Carefully and deliberately, she took the basket filled with her treasures, handed it to me and with a beautiful smile, only possessed by little children and angels, she said, “Merry Christmas.”
As they both slowly disappeared into the maze of the money changers, I thought of the distorted images in the mirror reflecting the false precincts we have created around the true meaning of Christmas.
For some of us, Christmas is a time to openly profess our belief and faith. A time for celebrating religious convictions. A time to share our human spirit. Instead, even the most religious zealots have exchanged the birth of a special child for a synthetic illusion of opulence, class distinction, wealth and greed.
I’m sure we will all receive wonderful, expensive gifts for Christmas. However, my most memorable gift will have nothing to do with money. It’s just a basket of chocolates and a small bag of popcorn given to me with honesty, sincerity, kindness and love, touched by the tiny hands of the little angel in the beauty shop.
The mother returned and the girl said to me, “Don’t go away, I’ll be right back.” A few minutes later she returned, handed me a box of See’s candy and said, “Maybe this will be your second most favorite Christmas present. Thank you for the beautiful story and merry Christmas.” –– and a merry Christmas to all of you.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. The polemics of his articles can be discussed at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site is www.thefarsidechronicles.com.