“It’s a dark night, sang the kettle, and the rotten leaves are lying by the way; and, above, all is mist and darkness, and, below, all is mire and clay.”
-The Cricket on the Hearth, Charles Dickens
I have a memory so richly steeped in the broth of gratitude, I can summon it anytime to fortify myself; it’s like opening a thermos of soup on the coldest day.
The memory involves a bit of confetti, a radio studio, and a Great Dane.
One dreary day beneath the canvas of a gray sky, I scooted my wheels into a parking space at the local grocery store. With my mind on autopilot, I found a cart and headed for the entrance. Then, a passing car sprayed my feet with mud and grit.
As my gaze drifted toward my soggy shoes, a little annoyed with the puddles and a little mad at the driver, something caught my eye. Bending down for closer inspection, I was rewarded to see a tiny metallic rocking horse. It was pink and gleaming and irresistible; a speck of color; an enchanting thing.
At that time I was the host of a radio show on WTMV-Youngsville, Pennsylvania. The studio operated from a refurbished living room on East Main. I remember telling my listeners about the confetti piece and comparing it to unseen treasures all around us – secrets shimmering just below the surface “stuff” of living. Listeners began calling in their own experiences to symbolize the idea of “hidden confetti” – unexpected bits of color in dark times.
Pretty soon, we had a list:
- Seeing a smile from across the room.
- A promise in the Bible.
- Sea salt on the breeze.
- The first sip from a cup of coffee on an unpleasant, icy morning.
- A letter in the mail, handwritten and sealed with a kiss.
- The smell of a pine forest.
- When your favorite song comes on the radio.
Later, I Scotch-taped the surprise confetti into my journal. The sparkly list inspired more thoughts of unseen treasures all around us – secrets shimmering just beyond what’s so obvious. It may take a little effort, but it’s worth a closer look. Your “confetti” surprise may be very different from mine; perhaps it’s the company of a friend, or a rich memory, perhaps it’s the trusting hand of child’s in yours. An unexpected long-distance phone call.
Collect these discoveries in your own journal or wherever you keep your collection of photos, and soon you’ll be carrying around a generous barrel of confetti to shower on someone else who needs sprinkled light in their gloom.
I recall promising a Great Dane. So, it was that on a rainy winter day, in a radio studio, my nostrils were filled with the smell of wet dog – the station manager’s Great Dane, it was, resting his giant solemn head on my knee, these memories are keen in my heart, punctuated with an odd bit of confetti.
Perhaps because of this keen memory, I have now made the hero of my new picture book a dog because to my core, I believe that one of the greatest gifts of comfort and happiness that our Creator gave humanity was the gift of a furry dog-gone pet.
This calls for a deeper dive into gift-giving at Christmas. Why not entertain the idea of giving some intangibles this year?
The thought of going from presents to presence might be a little radical, but it can be relationally memorable and exciting!
Here’s a starter list – customize your list to your family and friends and watch a new tradition unfold.
- Be a tourist in your hometown and try touring some new things with a dog leading the way
- Volunteer together for something you all care about
- Plan out a garden together and, with the design, include an I.O.U. – a day of weeding and a packet of favorite seeds
- Give State Park Passes or National Park Passes or an Art/Science Museum
- Give a behind-the-scenes tour of a city theater’s costume and art department
- Ice Skating Lessons or a boating outing
- Read a children’s book aloud to someone who would appreciate it
- Offer Painting lessons at a Children’s Museum
- Write a Letter of honor to someone who has especially touched your life
- Offer letter writing or make and send cards – on behalf of an immigrant to loved ones
- Commit to sending handwritten letters in lieu of texting
- Learn paper folding together and make origami garlands for the tree.
- Buy two hot chocolates: one for you and one for the Salvation Army bell. Stay with that bell ringer on a frosty Decemberrrrrr evening!
- Go caroling with a small group to one or two shut-ins during the pandemic, and bring the popcorn balls, figs, pudding, and nickles to reverse payment when you sing
- Offer to lead a Singing Bible Study in the Psalm Hymns in the new year
- Most important of all, give room for the unexpected. Linger longer in ordinary spaces, and bear witness to a holy entrance of Possibility.
Sometimes you just need to share the sparkly stuff to shift Christmas spirits upward. Especially, in the early darkness that defines December and January afternoons, Give the unexpected a chance to happen.
Kathy Joy is the author of the Breath of Joy gift books and Will You Hold My Story, a child’s picturebook.