What if this was your last Christmas? What if this was your last chance at Christmas Eve, Christmas morning, and Christmas dinner? Would you make the effort to go home for the holidays? Would you make time to take the kiddos to drink hot chocolate and look at the lights?
Would you still go to the mall?
That’s what Mary Kate Campbell did, and she and her shiny new husband had a great time.
“The best Christmas I had, we went to the mall and only had $100. He got a pair of Ray Bans, I got a sweater from J. Crew. We could afford these things, and we enjoyed our time together,” she said.
That was a couple years ago. She’s not sure where she’s going to spend Christmas this year. “That actually depends on whether I get into a clinical trial I got kicked out of last week,” she said from the Seattle hospital where she’s got a real bad case of relapsed, refractory Acute Myelogenous Leukemia. “Or I will go home to Virginia and have a nice quiet little Christmas like I did last year,” she said. “It all depends on whether I get this new drug.”
The bone marrow registry had two matches, but the doctors found cancer cells after the operation. When I asked if she’d been given a prognosis, she said, “I should be dead already,” and shortly after that she had to get off the phone to have a tube taken out of her chest. She’s 29 and has been married for a year and a half. But when she gets sad this Christmas, don’t assume you know why.
“Christmas is sadder for me now, and it’s for reasons that I think are not the most predictable because I see wonderful, well-intentioned people who love me and care about me and would do anything that they could do to save me, but they cannot save me,” she said. “I see them buying objects for me and for others to distract themselves from the pain for a little while, the pain that they’re going to lose me.”
And you think your mother is hard to shop for?
From her hospital room, Campbell watches endless commercials for Black Friday, door busters, and 24-hour sales, all screaming at us to buy things that will be forgotten by the New Year. If she had her way-and just this once, maybe she should-we’d handle Christmas more purposefully.
“Buy something you can afford that speaks to you about the person you’re buying it for. Surround yourself with people who don’t expect you to buy them things,” she said. “Every Christmas, we present the people we love with a glut of objects. We don’t necessarily present them with our love, we present them with objects.”
Life doesn’t have to be so fraught to give Christmas urgency. My cousin George Stanford, a singer-songwriter based in LA, just recorded a song called “Christmas For Two.” The video-it’s up on YouTube-features his lovely and pregnant wife, Nikole, as they prepare for their last Christmas before the baby comes. It is unspeakably adorable.
“Next year, there’ll be three, around our Christmas tree. You and I have just begun to write our legacy/Our gift will be here soon, a little me, a little you, so let’s celebrate our last Christmas for two,” sings George.
For better or worse, we don’t know who is going to be around the Christmas tree next year. So I’ll put it to you again: If you knew that everything would change next year, how would you spend Christmas? Would you judge Christmas on how high the pile of presents under the tree is? Would you worry that everything looked just so? Would you put a plastic toy on a plastic card because Suzy had to open the same number of wrapped boxes as Johnny?
What would you do?
Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who has helped elect or re-elect more than two dozen Members of Congress. He lives in Austin, Texas. You can reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @jasstanford.