Billy Pilgrim came for Thanksgiving then swiftly became unstuck in time. He travelled onward… or back.
Those of you who remember Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five know that when time came unstuck for Billy, he could spring forward to a happier place or he could fall back to appalling happenstance, like the bombing of Dresden during World War II. Billy had no say when it came to the matter of time. We, however, have a modicum of control over ours.
We even time travel- to an extent, not physically like Billy, but we can remember… relive what that shiny red bike looked like on that best Christmas ever, recall what it felt like to hold a newborn. We think ahead, hope for better, and manifest our dreams. The Pilgrim within gets to choose where we travel. We don’t have to visit any of the ugly stuff, past present or future if we don’t want to.
In one of my favorite parts of Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy’s fiancé flashed her diamond ring at Mr. Rosewater, “Billy got it in the war,” she beamed. Did she know that the gem came from rubble which once was Dresden; the rock was a spoil of war? To her it was a symbol of love, her dream of upcoming happiness, her time travel forward.
Mr. Rosewater’s reply could not have been challenged, “That’s the wonderful thing about war. Everybody gets something.” I get it, Mr. Rosewater. Some people get diamonds and others get dead.
I don’t wish to understate the sufferings of war by comparing them to holidays but I have to admit that similarities do exist… especially now, this Holiday Season.
And as I travel back to our family holidays, they were a series of tiny Napoleonic battles. We shouted, pounded on tables, about politics, social issues… religion, we dug up past resentments… said hurtful words. There is no doubt that we loved each other, we loved each other like mad, but with the collective holiday anger of my crazy family? Unite us, add one case of brandy, a few bottles of Ouzo and we could have invaded Canada.
That’s the thing about holidays, everybody gets something. Some get arguments and some get loved, some get the Lexus and some stand in line for a meal. Some children get a bike and others get shot.
So as the month of gratitude gives way to peppermint truffles and decadence I will live my moments more deliberately, select my thoughts carefully, choose the kindest words possible when speaking about our world as it is. And with my memories, I guess, I’ll be selective. After all, those impetuous relatives are sorely missed now. So it goes.
I look forward with hopefulness, to a time when peace on planet earth is achievable. I’ll dream that everyone everywhere has food, clothing and shelter. I’ll imagine that it’s so. And I will accept what I get this year (thank you very much for the lovely brown socks) with grace.
I hope for patience and tolerance from all of the people I love. No gifts for me this year, there’s nothing I need, except one favor from all. I need an advance on forgiveness, like a caveat, a hall pass or a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Those will do very well for me, please. Because I, like Billy Pilgrim, have a history… and probably even a genetic pre-disposition to becoming unstuck… just a little.
Happy Holidays to everyone… enjoy Christmas present. Take time for love!