This is a photo of:
- A Christmas treat Helen made for college friends gone terribly wrong (the treat, not the friends).
- An attempt by Ann at a new mixed media art form.
- A model of an animal cell for Rose’s Life Science class.
I have a friend who used to make her Christmas letters like this—multiple choice questions that highlighted the year. A typical one went something like this:
Bill and Cindy and I took a trip to Detroit in May because
- Cindy wanted to spend time with her cousins and she thinks their neighbor boy is cute.
- Bill had a conference on mosquito reproduction and led a panel discussion on mating practices.
- We got really cheap airline tickets.
She only did this for two years and I miss them. They were funny and it was a nice variation to the usual Christmas form letter. These letters, typed on decorated paper with photos and summaries of the past year’s events, have gotten a bad rap, but they make a lot of sense. Who can write about what’s been happening more than ten times without a dulling of the brain and a cramping of the hand? So I mostly enjoy the letters I get. But there are a few that, well, when they arrive in the mail I put them aside until I feel more stable (this could be hours or days). They are the letters that make me wonder where I went wrong in my own life. One such letter used to come from a high school classmate. There was the successful doting husband, a beautiful house with just refinished kitchen, a son and daughter who seemed to excel in everything from academics to sports to social life, and to top it off, family trips with sailing and skiing and….you get the idea. It’s not that I wanted her life (well, just a little), but it sounded like things were so great, so easy for her. Then came a year when the letter didn’t arrive and months later I found out why. One Saturday morning her teenage son went out to their garage and shot himself in the head.
The answer to the multiple choice about the photo above is “c”. It’s what Rose will take to school on Monday and I just hope the hardboiled egg won’t be smelly by then. But it only shows part of the story. It doesn’t show the “I give up!” (Rose this time, not me) or the fighting over the computer to try and find one picture that lists the same cell-parts as on the worksheet. And it doesn’t show the fun bits either, where we were waiting for the orange Jello to get just right to stick in the green beans and red sprinkles and crunched up tissue paper. Or the way Rose wanted me to know where the endoplasmic reticulum went in relation to the nucleus.
We have a choice about what we include in our holiday letters, and we also have a choice whether to remind ourselves that there is more in the letters we receive than what the words and pictures show. It’s important to understand that the parts often not revealed are what we all have in common—the moments of joy from simple things and the times of great sorrow. The humanity and vulnerability we all share. When we ask what’s the real point of all we do during the holidays, the get-togethers and presents and cards and letters, I believe this should be part of the answer—simply to try and understand each other better. And you can make that into a multiple choice question on next year’s letter if you like.