Our Town: Masks rather than stockings on the mantle this year

Our Town: Masks rather than stockings on the mantle this year

As the year ends, it is customary to attempt a year-end review. The year 2022 can be characterized as the year of ‘The New Normal’ which includes the wearing of masks, booster vaccinations, labor shortages, supply chain nightmares, inflation, weather destabilization and a general feeling of fear and exhaustion.

This is a grim picture indeed and has most of the population reeling. That’s why this holiday season is more crucial than ever. The popular Christmas poem “Twas the night before Christmas,” begins with the lines “Twas the night before Christmas, and all thro the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”

This poem was written over two hundred years ago and contains the simple magic of Santa Claus who spends his Christmas Eve dispensing gifts to all the children of the world. The holiday asks us to slow down, feel some magic and enjoy the feeling of giving.

Gift-giving is so pervasive this time of year that I was told “No charge sir” when I was in Staples having a photograph developed for Christmas day.

What a nice surprise that was. We have all grown so accustomed to answering “No” to those annoying and manipulative donation requests every time you make a purchase that this gift of “No charge sir’ from the clerk in Staples nearly floored me.

One of my patients said that gifts are potent because they’re memorable. And I agreed with him. When I think of my childhood some of my most vivid memories involve gifts. I recall getting a pro football from my godfather on Christmas, checks from my aunt and how my father’s friend George Gray would say to me “Hey T-bone, come over here” and he would then slip me a few bucks.

Of course, conversely when you are given a cheap gift you will recall that as well. One of my uncles would only give me a candy bar for Christmas and that left me wondering what was wrong with him.

The art of generosity and gift-giving is something you learn from your parents I suspect. I recall how my father would always stop at the bakery before we got the golf club on weekends.

He would buy two dozen donuts, bring them to the grill room when we got to the course and people would feast on them. Years later it was no surprise to me when I found myself stopping at a bakery before I got to a conference and then putting the donuts on the conference table for all the scholars to feast on.

Academics like donuts just as much as golfers do. It sets a nice tone.

An essential part of business is learning the art of gift-giving. It’s so easy to do and it leaves a very good impression. One of the most successful patients I ever treated would do the following.

When he learned that one of his clients was having a child he would find out if it was going to be a boy or a girl and what the name would be. He would then call up his grandmother and ask her to knit a blue or pink baby blanket with the child’s initials sewn into the garment. Do you think that made an impression?

Of course, you don’t have to be that elaborate to show caring and to make a good impression in business. Just remembering someone’s birthday is enough to set you apart from 99 % of your competitors.

Each Christmas I make the rounds of the shop keepers in town and drop off candy or cookies or some other kind of goodie. I am certain they love it. Everyone likes gifts. It’s an easy and fun way to spread a little love around.

The year of The New Normal is harrowing and even somewhat depressing. One wonders if America is nearing the end of the line and that we have not figured out how to live, to enjoy life and to find meaning. Perhaps it’s time to go back to the future and embrace familiar traditions like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Easter.

These lovely traditions are our human foundation which allows time to rest, celebrate and feel a little magic.

We are engaged in a battle between “The Old Ways” versus “The New Normal.”

The old ways are Bing Crosby singing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” and this new normal is some computer voice reciting a poem “I’m Dreaming of Covid.” The first lines would go like this: “Twas the night before Christmas, and all thro the sinuses, Not a germ was a stirring, not even some viruses. The masks were hung by the chimney in fear, In the hopes that a doctor soon would appear.”

Alas, 2022 was a challenging year but the human spirit is strong and patient and clever and resilient and things always seem to work out in the end. You may recall what Henslowe said about the theatre in the film “Shakespeare in Love.”

He was about to be tortured by the irate theatre producer Fennyman and explained “Our natural condition is one of the insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.” Fennyman then asks “So what do we do?” to which he answers “Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.” “How?” he is asked, and Henslowe says “I don’t know. It’s a mystery.”

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