A Welcome Guest

I’ve come to relish surprises this time of year. Something unforeseen, unexpected, even unintended. And this has nothing to do with objects wrapped in shiny, multicolored paper. Or an overstuffed stocking near my fireplace on December 25th.

There’s a formula to the holidays, of course, especially if you’re among those who celebrate Christmas. The traditions and pastimes that fuel the formula tend to comfort, in part, because of their familiarity. We live in an uncertain world, with unintended surprises too often the kind that shake us: the illness of a family member, a lost job, a missing pet. When December arrives and the formula starts to unfold, we find the accustomed joys as warm as the blanket Linus van Pelt totes around in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Pictures with Santa Claus. Eggnog in the fridge. The music we listen to only one month a year . . . but every year. (My favorite carol is “The Little Drummer Boy.” I’ve come to favor Bob Seger’s version, believe it or not.)

The formula can be trying, though, starting with the retail assault commenced the day after Thanksgiving. How many deals can the human brain consider with only a few “shopping days till Christmas”? Packed parking lots, cashiers in Santa hats, entire aisles devoted to the sparkly, the fluffy, and the sugary. (And how about all the Christmas-themed pop-ups when you shop online?) I can handle the volume, quite honestly. It’s the pace that tends to frazzle me, the feeling that somehow I’m falling behind if a certain number of gifts aren’t wrapped by this date, if cards aren’t mailed by that date. I happen to work in a business steered by deadlines. The weight of deadlines around a holiday season — a season centered on peace and joy — tends to spoil the taste of that eggnog.

But every so often comes a real surprise.

My wife and I planted a rose bush outside our house as a birthday gift for one of our daughters in the spring of 2007. It’s a living metaphor, of course, but the beauty and fragrance of the roses have charmed my family over the last four years in ways beyond symbolism. (Stopping to smell the roses is indeed a life lesson.) The roses bloom when they will, in spring, summer, or fall. This year, a rose bloomed shortly before Thanksgiving, adding a touch of color to a time of year when much of Memphis is buried in brown leaves. My family was grateful for the late arrival as winter loomed.

That rose, it turns out, was not our last in 2011. For the first time since we planted the bush, a rose bloomed in December. As bright red and sweet of smell as any before it, this rose endured ugly, wet weather the first week of this month, bending with the weight of rain water, clinging, it would seem, to a belated sense of duty: “I must beautify in times of need.”

With warnings of frost the night of December 8th, I chose to clip a rose from our bush for the first time. No way was I going to let this particular flower meet an end so dark and cold. I put the rose in a small vase, where it somehow managed to gain brilliance amid the lights of our Christmas tree and the bustle of activity in the kitchen where it sat. The pace of the holidays didn’t slow (it only speeds up as The Big Day nears). And much of the formula unfolded as it would have regardless of a flower’s gaze: wrapping gifts, addressing cards, listening to Bing Crosby.

But that rose came without warning. With no wrapping or bright lights. As silent as a snowy New England night. In December.

Christmas is magical these days for what I’m able to see through my daughters’ eyes. Nothing formulaic there. But when the holidays approach in years to come, something tells me I’ll remember December 2011 in ways I might not many other such seasons. I’ll remember a certain rose. And being surprised in a way Santa would appreciate.


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“901” is the current affairs blog compiled by the staff of Memphis magazine, where readers can find breaking-news tidbits relating to all facets of life in the Bluff City. 

Edited by Shara Clark, Memphis magazine’s associate editor, this blog’s regular participants include long-time Memphis editors such as Michael Finger, Jackson Baker, Frank Murtaugh, and Kenneth Neill. “901” also includes regular contributions from Inside Memphis Business staffers Richard Alley and Eileen Townsend, as well as the staff of the Memphis Flyer.

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