I remember the first time I fell and it hurt. I was nineteen and tripped on the cobblestone walkway from Belk Hall to the post office. I thought, geez, my femur hurts. Then, recently I heard someone use the word “lover” in a Christmas song—maybe “At Christmas, I think about my lover underneath the holly”—and I didn’t cringe. I used to wonder why older people had to be so dramatic and use words like “lover,” but when I heard it a couple weeks ago, I thought it was sweet and sentimental and that the world is full of people we have loved and miss and wonder if perhaps this will be the year we send our old lover a Christmas card. Finally, Aaron and I were walking around the neighborhood in Quincy and I found that if I had to choose between putting a big plastic set of sleigh and reindeer or a nativity scene in my front yard, I would choose the nativity scene when for many years, I thought personal nativity scenes demonstrative and showy, especially if the Baby Jesus looked like a sixty-year-old manbaby with a full head of hair and a silk robe. Now, I find I need reverence.
Because in reverence I find there might be a meaning to life. Today, however, I went to the one strip of stores found in all medium, large and super-sized cities. It’s the one with the Best Buy and the Sports Authority and the Sally Beauty Supply and the Bed, Bath, and Beyond and the store that dresses six-year-old girls up to look like Britney Spears. Nothing makes me feel more hollow inside than a row of box stores, and so today I thought, I see why people say there is no meaning to life. There are only different shades of cars, lines of people buying “presents for him” at 75 percent off, a marketing associate trailing me in Best Buy with his “I want you to know I’m in the store today to save you 40 percent off your next cable bill.” There is only an infinite number of meaningless choices.
Surely the greatest lie of our era has been choice. Fifteen kinds of orange juice is not a lot to choose from when it’s what all 6.8 billion people in the world are choosing among to drink. I die a small death every time I spend more than two minutes in the throes of choice. I find on this New Year’s Eve that the meaning of life is in the inexorable. It’s the people in our lives given unto us.
There is no meaning in rows of cars spilling people into clearance aisles, but get those people home with their new all-in-one tailgater tool (comes with a spoon and a fork and a screwdriver!) and get them talking about the ridiculousness of the college bowl system or the upcoming Iowa caucus to their brothers and aunts and cousins, and that laughter and understanding they make among themselves is meaning. For instance, my grandpa, who is vibrantly 82 years old, rushed into the house yesterday to give Clara a monkey that laughs at itself as it rolls around on the floor. He couldn’t wait to see her reaction at the toy he found. I’ve never seen a toy get its two AA batteries so quickly. At one point he was nearly bouncing with anticipation. When I see the expressions on my family’s faces as they love, tease, and listen to each other, I see something thick that sticks to my heart and makes me believe that the way to bring in the new year is to choose what we have.