By Rob Legrand
It was like many other Christmas Eve afternoons with all the expected and unexpected plans, meetings, trips, and lists that were coming due that day, for most everyone, of course.
The weather, for its part, had performed too, calling up a snow squall that left those of us seated at the Whole Foods café bar windows, feeling a little like the Currier & Ives Christmas Calendar: dressed well and warm, and happy to be enjoying our lattes and deserts, while watching the snow turning the streets and cars into a cheery winter wonderland.
My friend and I were part of that coffee bar assembly, and had happily completed most of our lists, save one small item for my mother, which fell easily into our trip across town to both purchase and deliver a gallon of her favorite chocolate ice cream. But our first duty was to meet here and carry out our annual Christmas feed-in and share our annual moment of Christmas friendship. Part of our ongoing tribute to a friendship that had spanned over a half century of Christmas deserts as well as weekly meetings.
As we sat warmed, comfortable and jubilant at the completion of our lists, we watched the last-minute Christmas car rush merge with the snow squall outside the Whole Foods store parking lot. This part wasn’t the Currier and Ives moment for the drivers still coming or going, as their lists lay uncompleted before them, and the snow was adding its own burden on both their visibility and movements.
Complicated one-way street patterns, assorted traffic lights, stop signs and then four, hired, uniformed police officers, struggled to keep the Christmas shopper’s patience aligned with both laws, and the short supply of parking spots in the Whole Food’s parking lot and the adjoining streets. While the shopper’s tempers and tension arose inside their car, the police seemed stretched to hold their own in the sharp, stinging, snow-laced wind.
Having parked several blocks away, we on the other hand, would easily escape this juggernaut, and having finished our over-indulgent deserts, prepared to leave and complete our special purchase for my mother. With a quick ‘be right back’ sign, he took off with coat half-on, to what I thought to be a bathroom intermission, but returned just as quickly with four large coffees with cream and sugar in tow.
Then immediately out the door, and wading thru the frozen snarled traffic lanes to the four police officers stationed between the parking lots and the crosswalks to Whole Foods, he passed out the coffee as graciously and considerately as if they were his own employees, wishing them Merry Christmas and a warmer Christmas Holiday. It was a Currier & Ives Christmas moment and all too typical of the friend I had in him.
While it was obvious to me as to how the police were taken aback and appreciative of his natural and magnanimous gesture, the rest of the story was almost lost to me.
Upon reaching our other destination across to the other side of Seattle, in a completely different grocery store, we were walking down the aisle looking for that favorite ice cream when stopped by a woman whom we didn’t know, and who started up a very confusing conversation.
Seemingly, we surmised at first, she had known him before, as she launched into a barrage of praise and appreciation which we only slowly began to understand. The woman, who didn’t know him, wished to know him, or so to speak, but more so, wanted to thank him.
It seemed his spirited walk directly out into the rising tempers of the traffic jam outside Whole Foods, had brought a clear moment of the meaning of Christmas to both officers and especially the motorists who had been caught in the slow, moving, angry, traffic juggernaut.
The woman claimed she herself rediscovered part of her Christmas spirit along with a car full of friends who had found their patience and Christmas cheer ebbing badly among the stops and cold stares shared between them and the other drivers trying to enter or leave Whole Foods.
The police, chilled and emotively battered by the stinging snow and cold indifference of the impatient pedestrians and motorists buying their last-minute supplies, were given a human touch in front of all to see, and it had evidently changed the mood of the whole crowd. People smiled she said and waved more considerately to the police as they passed. While the police waved back with coffees in hand, almost like in some sort of benediction.
And here we were, clear across the city from the initial interaction, astounded and taken aback by the reaction that seemed to continue from that one act, though returning in a different way, to us.
So why do I bring up these two different anomalies? Because, in a way they are part of the warp and woof undergirding our lives. Sometimes a circumstance calls out a response from within us that can’t be duplicated by any forethought or plan. Not with 4-free coffees every Christmas or even with 400 free coffees in every snow storm.
Sometimes it would seem, that the event must call to something else in usthat must be ready to respond due to the configuration of our personality and the circumstance we’re caught up in at the moment. It’s at that moment we must be willing to stop, step out and act with, or confront, that small, or significant inner voice, for it to truly live-on and deeply affect those around us.
Those moments have their greatest significance when they bubble up from deep within us and can present themselves clearly in the simplest fashion, available for action, and in the moment they arise.
Hindsight is almost always 20-20, and of course usually too late, so seeing those moments in time to act on them, or should I say, with them, is the key it would seem. Which would mean we need to be more alive to the moment and our innate natural response to it.
And you say “Why?” Well…it’s a matter of ‘living while still alive’, I would say. Or perhaps you say… “All well and fine…but how to be ‘alive and conscious’ in that moment…to that moment?”
In our culture, especially, where today I read that the latest Goggle super computers have created their own AI offspring, its especially important to claim or own individual moments of humanity before their stolen from us by machines that think faster and will soon move faster than we.
We are already a grouping of creatures which are harried, hurried, and hustled by our breakneck society, and already lose our bearings and stumble thru a kaleidoscopic landscape of trivial pursuits, illusions, and transgressions, with dead-ends punctuated by unseen, earthquakes, floods and hurricanes. Oddly those earthquakes, floods and hurricanes may be the tipping point for recalibrating the actual issues of greater importance for us. (Perhaps God does chastise those He loves the most.)
But the salient point is that we lose sight of our deepest human inspirations to the hustle and bustle of our lesser gods: a bit like watching Lucy and Ethel compensating for the speed-up of the conveyor belt at the chocolate factory. We’ve all been there in one way or the other and
whether it’s too little time left to buy that one special gift or spend extra time with another, or too many snow-bound, last minute, shoppers, to find ourselves peacefully through the moment, we need to stop and learn to let the underlying moments bubble-up, to see, grasp, and act upon.