Monday, December 15, 2008

Vanity Fair

My parents nuzzled me gently, “Wake up, honey. Santa’s come!”

It was the most magical morning of the year. I didn’t have the slightest idea what Santa might have brought me. I was only five. I was so excited. I felt like someone plugged Christmas tree lights into a socket in my belly. I felt lit up in rainbow colors.

Padding down the familiar steps in my jammies with feet, I smelled the pine tree. A log burned on the fire in my mind, even if we didn’t have a fireplace! Then I saw it--the most spectacular thing near the Christmas tree that I had ever seen in my whole life. It was a toy vanity, my own little dressing table, just my size, with a real mirror, brushes, combs, and pretend make-up.

Santa had somehow succeeded in bringing me something so perfect; I hadn’t even thought of it myself. A vanity wasn’t in my letter to Santa that I dictated to Mom, and in that moment, I didn’t really care what was. Somewhere there was this Benevolent Being who knew my needs better than I did myself. What’s more, I sensed that he was intimately connected to my mother and father—that maybe he could only do this because they told him all about me.

The ultimate meaning of this indelible, magic moment only became clear once I was as grown-up as Mom and Dad. Christmas is about new beginnings—the rebirth of self in the light of love—the message Jesus first brought to earth on his birthday. Thinking back on that snowy morning in the suburbs of Chicago and to the first Christmas in Bethlehem, I now see a big parallel. Some of the greatest gifts we ever receive are not the ones we ask for but rather those that pleasantly surprise or hide in right in front of us, to be discovered under the tree of everyday life.

A deep one growing up, I found myself easily led to the experiences I needed for my own development, as long as I was open-minded. I didn’t always see, right away, the bigger picture of what was right for me. I’d think back at those times of the vanity—a big and obvious gift with my name on it. I was a glamour girl at heart. I loved to primp and preen. Our cat Suzy was probably the only one in our house any better at it. How did Santa know?

From this simple experience of letting love surprise me, I have since been open to many other surprises stranger than fiction, especially when taken together. I was led to find my birth families--we were separated for 38 years by adoption--and the man who was the lost love of my life and my most unhealed relationship. Once I had a decade to digest these life-changing, lost-and-found experiences, the lesson of the vanity continued to sink in a layer deeper: Be willing to look at yourself.

One day, I was sitting at my computer doing just that by scanning my feelings. I got the nagging suspicion I had someone else to find. I had a rather animated conversation with God. “What now? Who else could I possibly have to find?”

In that moment, I remembered a dramatic dream I had six months earlier about my first boyfriend. Luckily, I am an avid dream journal keeper, and I reread my night movie recap with new eyes. There was a clear message that I needed to touch base with what happened in my very first boy-girl relationship. We were only 12 to 13 in our two years together, but I knew it was more than puppy love. We only broke up because his mom was worried we were too young to be “so serious.” While I wasn’t expecting a romance after 35 years, I still missed his friendship and hoped I’d discover what it all meant by following this surely divine direction.

With the Internet by then connecting phone books and people worldwide, I popped Tim and his unusual surname into a search engine and found him living in Texas. I wrote him a long letter. He wrote back. We were stunned to see how our lives had gone down similar paths over the years—same kind of work, same church, major life moves during the same years. Surprisingly, he had never married. Before I knew it, we were traveling between cities, and he moved to mine less than six months later. We married the following year. Now together eleven years, we are still amazed by the subconscious connection we retained, our grammar school pictures he kept, and how like the vanity, our relationship was there for both of us, under life’s perennial Christmas tree—the perfect gift when the timing was right.

Too bad we call it a vanity with all the egotistical connotations of that word. In my life, the mirror is about having the bravery to see myself and trust in the lesson of that surprise gift by simply making the journey to self-reflection. It is not always an easy trip as we relive pain and others’ imperfections, not to mention our own. Eventually we learn the truth—we are love.

We are the light of the world, a mirror of the love, which is born and reborn annually in this amazing season of peace and hope. Every year we have a new chance to celebrate light. No matter how many visits Jesus or other enlightened ones make to this planet to remind us, we still carry the guiding light within us wherever we go.

It’s the same message in the Chanukah lanterns that refused to burn out; in the sun god, whose return early worshippers sought to ensure at Winter Solstice. It’s in the Muslim Hajj, the annual trip to Mecca all adults must make around this time of year at least once in their lifetime. The ritual promotes the bonds of spiritual family by showing everyone is equal in the eyes of Allah—All One Light.

Regardless of faith, the message is the same: the inner light of love joins us all like twinkling stars in the night sky.

That’s why they call it the Christmas spirit. You can only see it with the inner “I.”


Note: The original “Vanity Fair” appeared in
Unity Magazine in December 1988. This updated version celebrates the 20th anniversary of its publication.

Need more Holiday Hot Flashbacks? Visit these previous posts:
Not So Silent Night, Where Are My Christmas Cards?, and Turn on the Lights!

Photo Credit: Dreamstime


Pat Montgomery said...

Very beautiful!!

Joyce Mason said...

Thanks, Pat. Peace on Earth--and a beautiful season to you and yours.

PopArtDiva said...

Your parents had to wake you up on Christmas morning??? OMG, I was always up at the crack of dawn impatient for everyone else to get up so I could see what Santa had brought!

Sometimes the Universe - aka our parents and Santa - know what we need more than we do. One year I wanted a toy kitchen but got a toy typewriter instead as well as my old standby Crayolas.

I've always been an artist and I'm still a foodie and love to cook but now I'm also a writer and I think that toy typewriter was the stimulus - I had to come up with something creative and fun to type!

It seems Santa brought you the gift of self discovery and awareness of possibilities! What a wonderful present!

Happy Christmas to you, Joyce and Aloha!

Joyce Mason said...

I know, hard to imagine. In fact, many years I did not need to be woken up, but I am so *not* a morning person! Not being up at the crack of dawn any Christmas as a kid sure prooves it. I see myself reflected in my cat Duffy who sleeps so hard and comatose. He actually slept through my selection process of him and Darrin when I got them as baby angels. I had to go back to the pet store the next day and see him in action to be sure he was "mine." Love your typewriter story! Self-reflection is a great gift. Santa gave us both creativity, too. Merry, Terri!

Eileen Williams said...

Thank you for that amazing recounting of your journey through the "vanity" of self-reflection. I know you to be an open and inquisitive soul and, because you fling the doors to your heart wide open, life has rewarded you with incredible experiences.
You go, my friend!

Joyce said...

Wonderful post. My sister and I would attempt all night to sneak downstairs and miss the sections of the wood floor that creaked so our parents would hear us.

Melodieann said...

What a beautiful story. I'm amazed at the part where you're parents had to wake you. In my house it was always the other way around!

Christmas is such a special time of year. And you are so right about gifts - especially the most amazing gift ever given and totally unexpected - which mankind received on Christmas night.

Joyce Mason said...

Thanks Eileen, Joyce, and Melodieann for your comments! A light-filled, blessed season to all.

Heidi Caswell said...

I forgot we called such things vanities. I remember a very nice wooden one my dad made for me and my sister. He put secret drawers in the back for us so we could hide our diaries or whatever. Thanks for the memories.

Don't think I ever had to be woke up Christmas morning.

Joyce Mason said...

Heidi, I would have loved those secret hiding places! If someone hasn't done it yet, I'd love to see a museum display of boomer toys. We had some simple but wonderful playthings. If you ever find a pic of your old vanity in a family album, I'd love to see it.