It started with the Wyoming Santa. A brief, typed note and two gift cards from a postal box in Gillette. We looked at each other in consternation. Who do we know in Wyoming? And how do they know that David likes Starbucks and I like Cold Stone Creamery? We surveyed our parents, who proved themselves equally clueless. I checked Facebook to see if any friends have moved to Wyoming. No results.
Christmas in Omaha was calm and cozy. None of the usual holiday rush, because everyone we know in Nebraska lives in one house. Ninety percent of the time it was heaven. The other ten percent, I felt a little overwhelmed by comfort and joy. Call it missionary kid syndrome, but I can’t be the only person who feels a faint unease in the midst of first-world yuletide bounty. There were games to play and piles of sweets to peck at, and beyond minor kitchen help, no one expected anything from me. I practiced yoga and scribbled away in my journal, but generally I felt as useless as Rudolph in January.
On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, I announced that I was taking a walk. My comrades in coziness looked at me like I was crazy (the wind chill was in negative double digits), but I needed to change things up. I needed to pull a Wyoming Santa, a totally unexpected maneuver. Jack, bless his heart, was wacky enough to join me. Sure we were cold, but we were alive. The sky shone bracingly blue. The earth bucked firm beneath our stride. We ran and tromped and tried to make snowballs from the white powder at our feet.
My next Wyoming Santa came the day after Christmas, when I followed David and Jack to the park. The weather had warmed to 50-something, and Jack wanted to try out his new bat and ball. At the end of the driveway I realized that I’d left my camera behind. Get this: I didn’t go back for it. I know, it sounds crazy. Who wouldn’t want to capture heartwarming uncle/nephew moments? But as a result of having nothing productive to do, I got roped into an invigorating game of Jackball (which involves far more tackling than regular baseball). I haven’t held a bat since a humiliating afternoon in high school gym class, but I’m pretty sure I won the day after Christmas. Anytime you grow lightheaded from laughter counts as a win, doesn’t it?
I could tell you more: how I let myself take long naps, how we explored quirky shops in downtown Omaha, how we choreographed a trampoline routine to the theme from Chariots of Fire.
I surprised myself. The people I love surprised me. On Saturday I turned 33, and David staged an elaborate treasure hunt, complete with two charming assistants and 11 rhyming clues.
In the midst of unexpected delights, a subtle shift works its way into my bones. I have struggled to make sense of our life here in Wichita: David’s disheartening job, my stymied jabs at freelance writing. My friend Camilla Blackman hit the nail on the head when she likened my condition to a fallow field. Wide expanses of possibility; no crop to be seen.
Who knows what goes on beneath the surface of that barren field? I’m not the only person I know who clings to productivity for a sense of self-worth. Over the past few months, I’ve learned how habituated I am to clinging, whether I’m productive or not.
Surprise! The lessons I’m learning aren’t the ones I geared up for. Gifts arrive unexpectedly: some sweet, others searing.
As the sun sets on 2013, new dreams quicken within me. They’ve shown up without warning, like dormant seeds waiting for the right conditions. I welcome them the way I’ve welcomed so many surprises lately: with curiosity, awe, and bafflement at my good fortune. Even when you can’t understand where the gifts come from, you can always say thank you.