11/26/2010

By Any Other Name

Black Friday. The day retailers go from operating "in the red" to operating "in the black," a day when they can breathe easy knowing that they can show a profit at the end of the year. I remember as a kid going with my parents to downtown Seattle, not to shop, but to see the window decorations. Animatronic scenes of the perfect Christmas moment - children playing with new toys, mother's decorating a Christmas tree, friends taking a ride in a sleigh - usually Victorian in style with window dressings in gold and red to match.

I remember one year we went to the top of Fredricks and Nelson and rode a small train through a wintery scene, very much like the rides at Disneyland only smaller, more compact. Fluffs of fake snow fell gently from the ceiling while large snowflakes covered in sliver glitter floated on wires. I don't remember if the ride cost anything, but I do remember that the ride seemed to last forever, a transport from the grey rainy day outside to a kind of winter I wouldn't experience until I was living on the Palouse where winter temperatures were typically in the 'teens and the snow stayed from Thanksgiving to well after New Years.

I do remember being bustled about through the crowds. The press of a mink coat on one side of me, my mother's hand firmly wrapped around mine as we made our way to the escalators. I remember instrumental symphony renditions of Christmas songs like Sleigh Ride and Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer and the Halleluia chorus floating over the murmurs of shoppers voices. I remember bright packages with gold and silver bows stacked on top of tables. I don't think they had anything inside them, but I know I wanted to see what might be wrapped up. Something big, I imagined, something wonderful, but I was never very specific about what a surprise might be.

I was always a bit non-specific about my gift requests - books were a safe choice, Legos were a favorite when I was in grade school, but usually if someone asked what I wanted for Christmas, I wouldn't really know. I always wanted it to be a surprise, I think, to have my face light up like on the commercials when the kid opened the box - didn't rip the paper off the box at all, just lifted the top and kept the wrapping and bow intact - and looked as if she just received the most wonderful gift of all. For me, it wasn't the thing inside that was important, it was the surprise, the wonderment that someone had gotten something just for me, put thought into it and it was a perfect thing.

Totally unrealistic, but then again, I wasn't the most grounded of kids - not really grounded now, I suspect. I was in for the experience, not the object, and I think I'm that way still. I once gave an improv storytelling performance as part of a contest to be included in an exclusive group in writing workshop. I wasn't particularly interested in getting into the group, other than that wanting to belong to something special. What caught my interest in the contest though was the challenge of making up an origin story based on a few lines of text. It was great fun and I had a blast. Folks laughed and followed along, and many thought I should have won the contest. I didn't get into the special group, but I did win a small trophy and gift certificate for a book. The thing was, the best part of it all was the experience of getting up there and trying something completely new. The prize I got was a bonus.

This post has gotten away from me - I meant it to be about how today is Black Friday for those of us who shop and how even though I dread crowds now, I did manage to get out and buy some new pants I needed for work (at a terrific price too). I meant this post to be about how the day after Thanksgiving means different things to different people, like the President who has declared today Native American Heritage Day, or those who see our society as addicted to materialism, urging us to Not Shop on this day. For others it's the start of the Christmas season, and on Sunday we begin the Advent Season, the preparatory time for many Christians who look forward to the second coming of Christ by remembering His first coming.

Then again, all those things are about perspective and experience. Today people all over the country focused on having a certain experience today - some went shopping, some hoped to make a profit after a particularly difficult retail year, some expressed their desire to honor the accomplishments and achievements of Native Americans, others focused on gathering family stories and avoiding retails off and online. Each made choices based on their perspective of what this day means and if each of us was conscious of moving through our lives in a particular way, that's a pretty cool thing. Life can be like that present the kid opens on Christmas day, something that's all wrapped up with a bow and given freely. It's our choice to bring an openness to each experience, to accept the joy the moment brings, the unique experience of the moment.

I still wish that I could go downtown to see the animatronic window displays, but at least I have the memory of the scents and sounds of those grey post-Thanksgiving days when stepping into another world was as easy as stepping onto a moving escalator in the heart of Seattle.