Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Black Dog of Christmas

What's this?

The Black Dog of Christmas is at our heels,

once again.

Plastic mistletoe just won't do.

Real hugs and kisses all around.

Nice dogy!

Every year since 1975 (save one) I have labored in the retail trade at Christmas time. Eleven years as a bookseller, twenty-two in the fine wine trade, I participated in the grueling grind of America's great spending binge holiday season. For those in the trenches of this annual ritual running of the gauntlet, this means extra hours, hastily snatched meals eaten while standing, desperate needs to meet with no time to lose, short tempers, disappointed shoppers with long faces and an unrelenting stream of Xmas music! I can't stress the horror of this last item enough. Muzak, Country Western, Jazz, Celtic Folk, Bing Crosby and Tiny Tim, I've heard 'em all... alot... many times... over and over...again and again... morn' 'till night... dawn to dusk... did I mention that I have heard a lot of Christmas music? Jingle bells become jangle bells!

Thus was born the Black Dog of Christmas. The dark mass of dread that was the Season to be Jolly, that "most wonderful time of the year". But last year I got a "time out", in the form of massive complications from my liver transplant. Bilomas and pneumonia, biliary drains and emergency visits in the dead of night and dozens of painful interventional procedures replaced the ol' grind and I missed the whole season. From Thanksgiving to New Year's Day I was pretty much a basket case.

The worst thing about silver linings is that big black cloud that's always in front of them. So, behind this particular mother of all black clouds there was one heck of a great silver lining. I experienced the loving care of my always-there-for-me wife, the support and encouragement of my family, my dear friends far and wide, the members of my church (St. Michael's by the Sea), the company of my crusty Vietnam-vet buddies at the San Marcos Vet Center, the terrific efforts of certain members of the cyber-Zen community, blogging away to free all sentient beings and the daily fellowship of the terrific sangha at the Vista Zen Center. In other words I experienced the sterling qualities of pretty much everyone I know.

What all of this leads up to is this. This year, when the Black Dog of Christmas came sniffing around I predictably tensed up, waiting for the blow. But instead, this year I have looked that dog in the eye and realized that I missed the old brut! I missed the harried shoppers, the hurried meals, the going the extra mile to help the customer. I've realized that the feeling I got when I was helping others has always been my payoff for my work. Sure I get a paycheck, but if it didn't make me feel good, I would't have lasted a week doing biz. And when someone comes in and tells me their dinner party was a great success or that their special someone was made happy by that perfect wine I led them to, it makes my day.

It may be that helping each other is exactly what we are all here to do.

"But Dave," you may fairly ask, "what about the Xmas music? Do you like that now?"

Nobody's perfect.
(I think that mutt just stained the carpet).

Xmas Card image by Edward Gorey