“Scott,” Heather asked in a voice that was just a shade too serious, “I have a very important favor to ask you.”
“OK …” I tilted my head slightly, waiting to see what she would ask for next.
“Would you …. be celery for me?”
I laughed hard. Oh. THIS game.
“Sure!” I said, still grinning as I stretched up to my full height with my arms at my side and curved my shoulders inward. A perfect celery stalk imitation, if I do say so myself.
“How about … a turnip?”
My knees bent into squatting posture, hands over my head to form the greens.
Back up tall, still with the greens, but this time shoulders out and feet pointed. Now both of us were laughing.
“Thank you, bear,” Heather said, a smile as bright as any Christmas tree on her face.
None of this was going to win me a spot in the revival of “VeggieTales” or impress anyone with my mastery of interpretive dance. This was a gag so old that it went back to the earliest years of our marriage, so old that we’d practically forgotten how it started. It may have even begun with the typical new husband declaration of “I’d do anything for you!” and a mischievous wifely response of “Oh, really?…”
Whatever the cause, it’s been one of our secret weapons. A way of snatching back a little silliness from a stressful world.
And oh, has it been stressful lately.
Picture an Advent calendar designed by Dr. Evil and you get the idea. Instead of a chocolate, each new day has revealed a different little ball of anxiety. Like straining my back while fixing a shower. Or racing Heather to the ER for Crohn’s issues. Or having our ward Missy turn into a squirming ball of unhelpfulness at a dental appointment. Or a series of minor and not-so-minor breakdowns in the house. And that’s without adding the magic of 2020 to the mix.
You know what I’m talking about, I’m sure. It seems to go with the holidays, whether it’s traffic on the streets or a missing person at the table. And it all gets underlined by the constant reminders that this is a season of joy.
It’s a conundrum that Charles Dickens himself knew very well. “What’s Christmas time to you,” his Ebenezer Scrooge groused, “but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer?”
Sometimes joy can be a very hard candle to light. And seeing it stay dark makes it even harder. Resignation’s much easier, an emotional distancing to go with the social, a mask worn over the heart instead of the face.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Because joy isn’t something we make. It’s something we make ourselves open to.
Joy lives in the unexpected moment.
When we turn a corner and Missy shouts “Lookit! Look!” at a house ablaze with lights from every seam, joy has come.
When a friend leaves something on the doorstep without warning just because it’s the season, joy has visited.
And yes, when Heather asks for a vegetable imitation and the laughter of 22 years of marriage suddenly breaks out across both of us, joy is in the middle of it all.
It’s still close at hand. Waiting.
Even in 2020.
May joy find you this season, wherever you are, whatever your circumstances. May you always be open to it, even in the hardest of times. Whatever flock you’re watching by night, may it give you the chance to watch the skies as well.
Be ready. Be hopeful.
And if you can, be celery, too.
It’s amazing how useful that can be.