This is a peculiar time of year.
There was the Christmas deadline that everyone raced to at the same time. Followed by the moments of reflection about the year past; plans, hopes and indeed, fears for the year ahead. It makes you think. It makes a writer think.
Christmas Eve I was in my local supermarket, buying last minute items and enjoying the cheery buzz. By the brussels sprouts, a couple of husband-types swapped a moment of badinage, bigging up the apocalyptic outcome if they didn’t get whatever was on their ‘List’.
This was the List that everyone carried, clipped to the trolley, clutched in hand, typed, scrawled, scribbled and ticked. The List was the moment we shared. The moment we were all sharing as we raced towards our communal Christmas deadlines.
So I’d ticked off the items on my List and it was all going terribly well until I got into the lift to the car park with a greying, slight, decent looking man. He was the type of man with whom I could share a seasonal comment.
‘It’s all rather exciting,’ I nodded at our respective, food-laden trolleys.
‘I hate Christmas,’ he said.
‘Oh surely not…Dickens wrote a novel about a bloke just like you,’ I said.
He smiled before he went on. ‘I have too many unhappy memories associated with Christmas.’
Needless to say, that shut me up and his comment haunted me throughout the holiday.
I’m no stranger to a fractured world during a time of celebration because some years ago, on Christmas Eve, my father suddenly died.
During the holiday, I read an article in the Telegraph’s weekend section. It was another List: ‘The Advice People Would Like to Pass On.
Each one of these 101 bits of advice is fascinating. Revealing. Showing deep character traits. Many of the quotes are a potential story hook and in fact, the article is now in my “ideas file.” Quite a lot of the quotes that 101 people cited were relayed from mentors; fathers, teachers, wise words spoken by another and clutched and held on to just as tightly as ‘The List’.
Of course, it made me think about my father’s advice.
It was a summer’s day and we were standing in the garden before I went off on my first unsupervised overseas trip. I was 17 and thought I was terrifically cool and knew everything that there was to know. As far as I was concerned, my father was an old bloke who would always be there and whose prime function was as chauffeur, banker and teller of the worst jokes in the world.
For once my father was earnest. ‘Remember this, it’s important,’ he said. ‘Whatever you do, wherever you go, try to empathise. Put yourself in other people’s shoes and try to understand their feelings.’
Needless to say, at the time, it meant absolutely nothing. I didn’t even know what empathy meant. It means more now.
I hope you survived the Christmas season with a little less pain and that every day in your year, is as bright as it is today.