On Nantucket, the holiday season begins with the Vineyard game. Sometime during the game, the great gray lid of winter fastens itself over the island, the wind picks up, a few flakes hit your cheeks, and its time to find the wool and seal the windows. The only tourists on island are rooting for those fellows in purple. The stands and fences are jammed with familiar faces blowing on familiar hands and stomping familiar feet in the cold. Looks like it is just us again, doesn’t it?
The Vineyard game is a checkpoint for dozens of men in the stands. Their memory still holds the feel of the open field tackle, the fumbled handoff, and the leaping catch in the end zone. Every one of those men, in the dark corner of their minds, thinks that if they had a month to get back in shape, they could still play the game.
I would think it pathetic if I didn’t believe it myself. My memory has been more faithful than my muscles. I remember the locker, the plays, the pads, and the walk up to Landrigan Field. I was an indifferent player on a bad team; I cared about far more things that Saturday’s results. But if I could play again, I would be a Johnny Damon level “idiot” and just enjoy throwing myself around.
My fellow football fantasists and I stand behind the fence with our hands in our pockets watching the game. I don’t think we want any more football glory; I think we realize that we didn’t enjoy it then as much as we could have. All of the slings and arrows of adolesence were upon us and prevented us from enjoying the pleasure of whacking each other. Were I to pick up the phone and call my younger self, I would tell him to stop worrying about the future and start enjoying the present. Get in there and hit somebody.
Perhaps my octogenarian self will put down his beer, call me up and tell me the same thing. Stop worrying and enjoy the days. Don’t worry about national politics, the career, the sewers and the missed putts. Enjoy every sandwich.
The holiday season is a good time to think of that octogenarian in the future. When I come to the checkpoints of the holidays, I usually think of what is lost. Culling out and editing a greeting card list is one of the ugliest jobs of the season. This one divorced, this one married, this one’s address is gone, this one has a new child, and this one passed away. My future self would counsel me to focus on those names that remain. Holidays should be a good time to celebrate what abides and endures, not bewailing what is gone forever.
This may be a good thought to have as Christmas Stroll looms on the calendar. For many islanders, Stroll is always a good time to remember how it used to be; there were less people, more bargains, and better snacks. Now, the town will be sick with credit cards in mink, with flashing earrings and musical ties. They come in force, take over those inns and restaurants that remain, then leave their money with Santa. For islanders, going home and hiding under the soft ooze from the TV seems very attractive.
But if Christmas Stroll were just the waltz of the wallets, it would never have abided and endured. Cobblestones and Christmas trees can be found closer to New York at a fraction of the cost. No one gets seasick or has to sit outside on the New York Thruway.
However, the strollers do not really come to shop. They come to sink into the atmosphere for a weekend. They want to walk around, eat chowder, meet friends, have cocktails, and buy pants with embroidered trees. They like the children’s holiday decorations, the carolers, the town crier, and the funny hats. To them it feels like Christmas. When we go home and work on our TV tans, does it feel like Christmas? If my 80-year-old, beer-drinking self called me up, would he recommend that I keep turning channels until I found another “Law and Order”? Or would he want me downtown in funny hat next to the tree with the most toy trucks on it?
Time robs us of everything, anyway. Time took away the pleasure of football as it will, eventually, take away the pleasure of friends and family. When we only think of what we want or will lose, we miss what we have. Then, the clock runs out, everyone shakes hands, and you turn in your helmet and shoulder pads forever. While we can, we should sit on a bench and watch the funny clothes and hats go by. Since we can’t make time stand still, perhaps we can tickle it.
Last year my oldest boy figured out that Christmas meant presents. When he came downstairs, he found a Formula One race car that doubled as tent. For twenty minutes, he missed every other present that was waiting for him under the tree. Instead, he crawled under that tent, made racing car sounds, and crawled around the living room. The other presents could wait; they would eventually get their turn and his undivided attention. This, however, was the moment for the race car tent.
This year my Christmas wish for my son is that he forgets the race car tent. Rather, that when he sees that first present under the tree, he immerses himself in it and loves the moment as it happens, without second thoughts, memories, or regrets. Enjoy the now. Life is too short to stand behind the team bench waiting for the past to call your number and send you in.