All through the department store the cacophony of commerce abounds. Time may be running out and the store appears ransacked, but everyone here today prays for a deal, a find, the lightning bolt of inspired gift ideas.
Here is the estranged father, dirty and tired from work, scavenging the toy aisles for the plastic equivalent of the love he has for his children. There is the mother on FaceTime with her child, getting directions on exactly what to buy. Here is a small child grabbing something of interest from the shelf, then returning it half a minute later – hope lost that it will be theirs. There is the part-time store clerk, tired and haggard from filling online orders since dawn and answering vaguely aggressive questions from in-person customers. Here is the lonely man wandering the aisles with nothing to buy and nothing better to do today. There is the grandmother balancing her checking account in her head, wondering how far her meager monthly stipend will stretch.
She remembers when it was a miracle to get anything at all. When the Christmas of movie lore, when hypothetical families would curl up around the crackling fireplace, was the aspiration of all. An exchange of gifts didn’t factor into the holiday equation and neither did any sense of warmth. It was always a cold day like any other. No matter how much they deluded themselves, alcohol surely helped, they knew the life they saw beamed into their homes and the moral lessons they carried would always be just out of reach. So they resigned themselves to keep trying. It’s what life is all about, Christmas or not.