I still remember well sitting on our couch, the Sears catalog on my lap, turning page after page and circling all of the items I wanted for Christmas that year.
I remember the anticipation.
I remember the eagerness.
I remember the “wow!” as I’d turn a page and see some magnificent new toy I never knew existed but which would then raise the bar for my wish list for that year.
I remember the tension. The thrill. The longing and hope and fervent dream for a Christmas morning where the floodgates opened and I received everything my heart desired.
Sometimes it would happen. Other times there was disappointment. And whether it happened or not, within a week or two life went back to the usual rhythms, the new toy forgotten or broken or my heart had attached itself to something new that I’d seen on TV.
I watched my youngest son go through this ritual a week ago. Not with a Sears catalog, of course. Sears is all but gone and I haven’t seen one of their catalogs in 25 years or more. But he sat with the modern replacement, scrolling page after page on Amazon, marveling at all of the different Transformers toys and letting loose a frequent “OH, YEAH!” when something even more exciting than the previous item caught his eye.
He said the same thing every child ever has expressed in some form or another: “I’m going to be so happy if I just get…!”.
I would be content If I only had…
If only the next moment would contain something that this moment does not, then I would be happy.
We never really stop circling those catalog pages, do we?
If only I had that car. If only I could go there on vacation. If only I were thinner. If only I had another degree, a different title, more money, more hair, better clothes, more willpower, fewer spots on my dishes and all that I already owned was neatly organized and worked exactly the way I wanted.
Then I could be happy.
I’m at that stage of life where I finally have enough perspective to recognize where true happiness comes from.
I can look back at those years where I feverishly circled items in a catalog, pinning my joy to bits of plastic stuffed with batteries or to some item of pop culture that would make me “cool” if I only possessed it. I can only remember a few items I received: an Evel Knievel bicycle decked out with a plastic gas tank and red, white and blue streamers that I quickly removed. A remote-controlled airplane that I crashed within a day or two but sat on my bedroom shelf for years afterwards. A Casio watch that was supposed to tell the temperature but was usually wrong by ten or more degrees. A box set of The Lord of The Rings books that I still have.
What I remember most, though, and what brings me joy still, are memories of moments:
Standing by a fire barrel with flames reaching high into a chilly desert sky, surrounded by Cub Scout friends while we sold Christmas trees in a mall parking lot.
Cousins coming over for Christmas dinner and long evenings playing Risk or Trivial Pursuit.
Playing a fierce game of hide and seek that encompassed the entire block we lived on.
Sneaking out and toilet-papering someone’s house with some good friends.
Sitting with my mother and listening to Amy Grant’s first Christmas album and talking about what sort of music moved us. I can still remember the sweater I was wearing that afternoon and that I must have reeked of the Stetson cologne I had splashed on earlier that day, thinking it would impress one of the girls at church.
I can see now how our joy is not wrapped up in boxes stuffed under the tree but rather leaps from the moments when we feel most connected to others.
And I’m wise enough now to recognize those moments as they happen.
I can stand in the chilly night air and watch my sons eagerly await their turn on a roller coaster and wish for nothing more.
I can snuggle with the dog under a blanket and feel her snore against my chest and wish for nothing more.
I can sit around a campfire with friends and tell the same old stories over and over and wish for nothing more.
I can hold my wife’s hand and sit in silence and wish for nothing more.
Just connecting with another and sharing that moment.