There is always a sunrise, even after the longest night. I am glad we made it through the darkness.
I like to think I have a sense of humor. My kids would probably disagree. Mr. Wordtabulous gives me props for being funny, but usually not when I am trying to be. Still, I have my own humorous take on things and for the most part that serves me well enough. The one area where I fully admit to NO sense of humor AT ALL would be the area of practical jokes. I have made it very clear to Mr. W, and am now making it clear to you as well, that if I ever get “Punk’d” the person punking me and Ashton Kutcher will be eating a camera. Each. There would be lawsuits and probably jail time, but mark it, that would be the straw that would break this well-behaved, good sport, camel’s back. Word. Are we clear? Good.
So now I am reflecting on the debacle with the New Zealand radio show hosts calling Princess Kate Middleton’s hospital staff and the horrific turn this tale has taken. If you are not up to clicking to nbc.com for the story, and don’t know what all has gone down, here it is as I understand it: Princess Kate was hospitalized for severe morning sickness during a pregnancy which has galvanized the UK, and as a joke the hosts of a New Zealand radio show called the hospital pretending to be Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth and asking for information and to speak with Kate. The nurse who spoke with them, Jacintha Saldanha, actually gave them some information and transferred them through even though the hosts were not convincing at all. There was a huge uproar over this and the hosts claimed they never expected the prank to work, which I find completely plausible, but the upshot was that nurse looked like an incompetent idiot. Reportedly, this woman who fell for the prank, a wife and mother of two, has now taken her life. In response, the radio hosts have been fired and the station has lost advertisers. Today, The Onion tweeted, “The other nurse thought it was funny.”
Normally I enjoy The Onion, but this was gross. Irreverence is one thing, but this is NOT FUNNY. The problem with many practical jokes is the unknown quantity; the mental state of the people involved. PEOPLE. Not cast members with scripts, who go in knowing they are being compensated for playing the loser, and are glad to do it. Real unsuspecting people who make mistakes and have problems. Maybe they have long-standing issues of inferiority, or addiction issues, or are facing loss and grief. Maybe you don’t have to have a ton of issues to hate life when your entire country turns on you. Now, I don’t believe anyone suspected suicide was a possible outcome when this gag was put to play, but I also think a certain lack of empathy is a job requirement for the industry. Do I think the radio show hosts should have been fired? Maybe not, but I have trouble caring about their situation. There are probably worse characters in this sad story scapegoating the clever and amusing radio personalities. There are much worse characters at The Onion, making a joke out of the dead woman’s extreme response and putting it out into the world to provoke a ripple of mockery. Killing yourself, even when faced with what seems like universal condemnation and ridicule, is an unreasonable response. So would be forcing some self-satisfied jerk to eat a camera, yet I still can’t see why people insist upon provoking these kind of reactions.
The Christmas I remember most takes me back to the age of eight. It had been a night of traditions: Dad’s last-minute dash to our small downtown to do his shopping, Mom cooking chili and oyster stew and baking bread for our annual Christmas Eve meal. We dressed up for dinner because soon after clearing the table it was time to go to the service at church, where we sang the best of the hymns and heard again the Nativity story, recently relived through the children’s Christmas pageant in which I was an angel or a shepherd or a twinkling chorus star. At the end of the service the lights were turned off and we all passed flame from candle to candle. Children, fire and hot dripping wax in church–what could go wrong? The yearly case of slightly burned fingers was part of the fun.
Upon returning home it always seemed our tree had shrunk and the beautiful decorations, so big and colorful during the day were thinned and muted in Christmas Eve darkness. Over-tired and over-stimulated, we got ready for bed. My older sister, age 15, had a bedroom on the lower level of our split-entry house. It seemed so remote as to almost be a separate apartment although it was directly beneath my own room. My room snuggled in a corner between my little sister’s room and my parents’. I climbed into my bed that night, determined to get to sleep quickly and not risk being awake when Santa came. Songs like “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” were all very well, but I had an unsettling notion that really seeing Santa would be Breaking The Rules and could wreck it all.
I have no idea what time I suddenly awoke in the middle of the night, sweaty, hysterical and convinced that Santa had not come, that he had forgotten us, or worse, had skipped us and it was somehow all my fault. Summoning my nerve, I crept out of bed and down the dark hallway into our living room, which seemed cavernous. Our tree was in shadows on the opposite end of the room, and I was afraid to go near or turn on the lights, but it seemed to me that there were no more shapes beneath the tree than there had been and the stockings hung on the wall looked pretty flat, too. Afraid to wake up my parents, but dancing around the edge of a full-blown panic, I woke my five year old sister and dragged her to my room. I didn’t WANT to upset her but I could not stand to be alone, and anyway, she was going to find out that Christmas was ruined soon enough. We were both sobbing by the time our mom came to see what in the world was the matter. I explained. She told us to stay in my bed while she checked things out.
We waited in agony–forever. I think part of me is still there. Everything was just so unprecedented and wrong…and yet we hoped. We hoped that I was mistaken. We hoped there had been a miracle and things were actually okay. We feared the worst. Finally, Mom returned, bearing our stuffed stockings: proof. Peeking out of the top of each stocking was a large-eared stuffed mouse stitched together out of paisley and solid polyester fabrics, purple for me and yellow for my sister. The relief was indescribable. Mom let us root through the rest of our stocking and while that also felt wrong, we did it anyway. Each item was evidence that Christmas wasn’t broken. If later we were a little sad to miss the stocking part of the morning gift tradition, even then I knew it had been a small price to pay.
That was probably the last Christmas I really believed in Santa, although since then uncertainty, panic and shame certainly have taken his place in my annual traditions. It is hard to know how to put on a Christmas full of hope and celebration when I get so worked up and worried. Putting away impossible expectations would be a start, as well as remembering the gifts that matter the most. I can’t tell you what else I got that Christmas nearly forty years ago, but that improbably colored mouse will always remind me of the first time I remember receiving grace.