More than anything else, Christmas is about memories, many of which carry us back to the child who’s still living inside each of us–informing and influencing us more than we’re likely to realize.
And what’s more memorable from those early years than the Christmas presents we found under the tree? I certainly had some memorable Christmas presents. My Flexible Flyer tops the list. It certainly got more use than any of the others. This year a memory of another important present popped up–it was a Jack-in-the-box.
I must have been about four years old. Maybe five. Who remembers their age from those earliest years? My Jack-in-the-box had a clown-like puppet that popped out of the box at the end of the song that played when you turned the little crank. It was a simple toy, but it stands out in my mind. I wonder why it was so important to me, why it carries such strong memory.
Maybe it’s because I’ve learned that life is full of surprises. You turn the crank and at the end of every tune something unexpected always pops up.
As a four year old I didn’t think about the lesson in my little Jack-in-the-box. I just played it, over and over, until the spring broke. The song played and the lid opened but Jack didn’t pop up.
I remember the dismay and disappointment. I took my Jack-in-the-box apart to try to fix it. I failed. I couldn’t reattach the spring and I couldn’t put it back together. But I learned how the thing worked, and there was a certain fascination and satisfaction in that. It’s what we call unintended consequences. Benefits emerge from strugglessurprise, surprise.
Life as a Unitarian minister requires a never-ending struggle to figure how things work, and to try to explain it all. You, too, have to struggle, but you don’t have to explain it to hundreds of people every week. We all turn the crank and listen to the song and hope that something pops up. There are lots surprises and an array of unintended consequences. You can’t always fix things that are broken, but you might at least discover how they work, and in the process discover how you work.
The Flexible Flyer and Jack-in-the-box were things I could use alone. It takes two to play checkers or tennis. Pulpits are built for one. But it’s no fun to preach to empty chairs. I was fortunate to be part of a big familynever lonely, but cherished time alone. We move back and forth, from being alone to various kinds of togetherness, and back again. We move from the child we were toward maturity, and back again, as we remember and learn new things with every passing day and year.
I assume that you have memories of Flexible Flyers, Jack-in-the-box or their equivalents; and memories of the people who gave them to you, which are, of course, the most precious memories of all. They get better with age. I hope you’ll find a quiet moment in the midst of the hustle and bustle and make room for little epiphanies that pop up and make you smile or bring an unexpected tear. I look forward to seeing you again soon. Thanks, again, for your kindness. You’re a good person.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,