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A Perspective On Shiny Things

Have you ever noticed how December seems to be a month filled with “shiny things”: clothes with sequins, trees with lights, decorations that sparkle and shiny new toys.  Even the people in our lives seem to get polished up – if only for a few weeks.  The holidays are a time when we find ourselves shopping for the aunt we haven’t spoken with for months; writing a Christmas card to the college roommate we haven’t seen for years or baking cookies for co-workers – including the ones we hardly know.  Maybe it’s the “Christmas cheer” – maybe it’s the glow of the tree lights – maybe it’s the eggnog – or maybe it’s simply a tiny window into the world of magic we wished for on those shiny stars.  Maybe it’s all those things.

For me – the tree is always my favorite shiny thing about the holidays.  This year – I think I figured out why.

For many reasons, I found myself alone while decorating the tree that fills the huge window in the front of my home.   In this moment of solitude I found myself in an unexpected place of introspection.  As I unwrapped each treasured and glittery ornament – I began reflecting on the history of every one.  Where it came from and what it had meant at the time.  It made me think of all times in life when I have been like the shiny crystal angel and other times when I’ve been more like the 2nd grade art project.  Once the boxes were all unpacked – when I stepped back to admire the completed task – I realized something spectacular.

This 8-foot pine tree with little white glistening lights represents the story of my life.

It holds the white ceramic angel hand-painted with the words “Stefie” — from the only person who has ever used that term of endearment.  It holds the story of the sterling silver angel that my sister and I would fight over hanging as children.  It holds the multitude of ice skates – serving as a reminder that I once aspired to be an Olympic champion.  It holds the golden ornament from the US Capitol from the days when I worked there.  It holds the rhinestone studded crystal dog bones with “Jack” and “Blue” inscribed.  It holds bells and music notes to honor my love of such things.

This living storybook isn’t just a reminder of the happy times – but it also bears witness to the moments of sadness and loss that are stitched throughout our lives.  There is a millennium glass ball I got the Christmas before my brother died.  There’s a once matched pair of “his and her monograms” – now hanging alone – its partner on another tree in another place.  No matter what the circumstances of each detail – as I looked at the finished tree – everything looked so beautiful – so shiny.

I thought back about all the gifts I have joyfully discovered under the tree over my 40 years of life.  The Barbie Townhouse with the elevator and plastic horses; the REAL kitty I named “Blackie” and the leather ET: The Extra Terrestrial doll; the PJ’s and sweaters; Coach purses and diamond jewelry; the books and music; and electronic gadgets.  All of them seemed so shiny at the time – but most have lost their luster and faded away – either sold at a garage sale or donated to Goodwill.  An overwhelming melancholy feeling came over me…

How is it possible to love something so much when we newly discover it shining under the tree – only to have its status replaced by the time the next holiday rolls around.  Do we treat the humans in our lives the same way?  Do we bask in the glow of new friendships only to replace them when the next “shiny” person comes along? Or do we treasure them deeply – carefully protecting them for life like the ornaments on the tree?  I suspect we are all guilty of both.

So, as we wander our way through the holiday traditions — enjoying the magic of new memories and the sparkle of new things – may we also remember that which was once shiny and new but has long since been buried in a closet or faded to a memory.  And most of all, may we remember to honor their place in our life’s story.

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