Keep On Hoping in the Free World

Kathie GibboneyBy Kathie Gibboney

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Keep On Hoping in the Free World
In hopes of making only one stop, we’ve adjusted the shopping list several times, discovering milk listed twice by mistake. Three cans of corn, one creamed, for my ongoing attempt to recreate the corn souffle my mother used to make from the old Fanny Farmer Cookbook. Being challenged in culinary arts, I’ve met with varying degrees of success over the years, once sadly producing nothing more than a soupy slop concoction. Some of our family and friends ask of me, “Why bother?” Fresh mushrooms, eggs, green beans, of course the Turkey and don’t forget the Nuovo Beaujolais recently released. One of the Beleaguered Husband’s noted skills, in addition to spewing forth obscenities while balanced precariously on the roof, hanging the Christmas lights, is finding an elusive parking spot in an ever-so-crowded lot. So even though it’s but a few days before Thanksgiving he deftly maneuvers into a space. Bravo! Just approaching the store’s entrance the excitement is palpable. Now, Trader Joe’s seems often a friendly and fun place to shop, what with the tropical atmosphere, flowers on display, shiny fruits and vegetables, employees in Hawaiian shirts as if on vacation, and shelves decked and displayed with a plethora of seasonal goodies. It seems we’ve arrived at some rare and wonderful apex of a Happy Shopping Experience. People are smiling, children laughing, music playing and a sense of comradery filterers through the very air. Spirits were uplifted and shoppers offered a polite, “Oh, excuse me,” when carts collided. And all this was achieved without the benefit of free samples (although wouldn’t a nibble of gingerbread have been fine). The Beleaguered Husband began to banter with strangers, as he is wont to do in that way that always embarrassed the children, joking with a woman holding a banana asking, “Are you going to use that in the stuffing?” I, too, felt buoyed and happy to be amongst the throng, all sharing an unusually open friendliness, no suspicion of each other. Even if a pickpocket or purse-snatcher dared cross the threshold, I like to think they, too, would be touched suddenly with good will but think better of it. Maybe they might hand a child back a dropped toy and leave empty handed but fuller of heart. Shoppers and employees wish each other, “Happy Thanksgiving!” and “Happy Holidays!” Ah, if it could always be thus. So, with the turkey in the cart—and, yes, Trader Joe’s did have the Nuovo Beaujolais, (actually pretty good)—we are about finished when I realize the thought I’ve been pushing to the back of my head: “How can we be doing this? How can I feel so happy and looking forward to sharing a feast with family and friends and a coming Christmas season when hostages are being held, and people lie dead in the streets and bombs are falling?” In the checkout line, Neil Young’s-rocketing-freight-train-running-down-the-tracks-can’t sit-still-if-you-wanted-to anthem, “Keep On Rockin’ in the Free World,” comes to mind. I rephrase it to myself, ‘Keep On Shoppin’ in the Free World.” But be it rockin’ or shoppin’, it’s what we are still free to do and since others are not, it becomes somewhat of a sacred privilege, not to be taken for granted. I‘m reading a book to some children, a winter book about forest animals finding shelter in a mitten, written by Jan Brett. I had thought it was a Scandinavian story but looking on the back cover, I’m corrected and say aloud, “Oh it’s an old Ukrainian tale.” And I pass my hand across the book in some attempt to send blessings to that war-torn region. I see the innocent young faces around me unaware of peril, just waiting to hear the story. Keep on reading in the free world. The days of November have run down, the leftovers gone and suddenly, faster than the time it takes me to drink a glass of egg nog, it’s Christmas! Christmas with its blessed message of hope and love and peace. Christmas with its trumpeting, thundering Hallelujahs, and its soft and tender Silent Nights. With the smell of pine and those deep, dark places in the tree, perfect for a small elf to perch, hidden, peeking out, watching when he wishes. Wait a minute! Did I just see him move? My Christmas, filled with growing up and wild Christmas Eve excitement and an unbridled expectation of the splendor of the coming Christmas morning. Little Brother and I unable to sleep, squeezing all our muscles, making our bodies stiff and then relaxing in an attempt to drift off to sugar plum fairies dancing in our heads. Hours and hours seemed to pass. “Are you asleep?” “No, are you?” Then, somehow, the sun was shining through our bedroom window. I am indeed grateful to have my own children know Christmas magic, for them to have heard the sound of the Angel Chimes, know the smell of bayberry, share our wacky yet sacred manger, where all are welcome, from Small Mouse to Big Foot. See cat sleep in deep winter wonder. I want to feel that spirit now, to follow the star, to step lightly, bestow my love on a small child, rejoice just for the heck of being alive, and smile on a stranger. But my holiday revelry is challenged by the grave state of our world of which I am a citizen. Turning off the channel does not excuse me. Sometimes the bells grow dim and the clouds cover one star shining. I believed once, albeit naïvely, in a new, glorious, altruistic idea called, World Peace. I have always kept the idea of that Garden alive somewhere inside me. And so did Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, writing of a long-ago Christmas during the Civil War when the country, our country, was divided and raged with war and hate and horror. From Christmas Bells (1866) I heard the bells on Christmas Day Their old, familiar carols play, And wild and sweet The words repeat Of peace on earth, good-will to men! Then from each black, accursed mouth, the cannon thundered in the South, And with the sound, the carols drowned, Of peace on earth, good-will to men! And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said, “For hate is strong, and mocks the song, Of peace on earth, good will to men!” Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep! The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, With peace on earth, good will to men!” It gives me hope, so here, I bravely dare to wish you and our weary world, GOOD WILL AND PEACE
Kathie Gibboney

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