Tuesday, January 5, 2010

On Sabbatical

For the past ten years or so, I have sent out holiday cards to my friends and family at Xmas time, not an unusual holiday practice for many people in the United States. But I had given up the practice of sending out cards many years ago, when it seemed to me that the sending of cards was just too time consuming, given all the other holiday rituals taking place, such as cookie baking, and gift buying for my large extended family, and gift wrapping, and gift mailing to the East Coast and attending holiday parties, and tree decorating and visiting with my friends and family....makes me tired just to think about it. In addition, right after the holiday (and I mean RIGHT AFTER) was busy season at work for all of us accountants, trying to close the books at year-end and working a lot of overtime to do so. Our team in the finance department didn't even know that New Year's Day was a holiday; it was just another work day for us. All the holiday traditions became just too much to handle, and that was not fun, so I cut back; sending greeting cards was one of the first things to go. That is, until the year my son died.

After my son was killed, nine years ago in an accident at age 17, I found that I had many wonderful friends, and all of my wonderful friends rallied around me, supporting me. It has been a difficult journey through the valley of grief, but I have found my greatest solace in the faces and voices of my friends. And, my friends sent cards. At first, they were cards of sympathy, with words from the heart, that I read and re-read over and over and over again, some of which I kept by my bedside for years. So, that first Xmas after my son died, I sent out holiday cards to my friends. They sent cards in return, and I taped them to the hallway door in my condo, where I would pass by them numerous times a day. They went up in December, and I didn't take them down until July because I liked to look at them, liked to re-read them, liked to be reminded of my many wonderful friends who were available to me at the touch of the phone pad or a tap on the keyboard. I only took them down in July when birthday cards began to arrive instead. And I'd leave the birthday cards up until....whenever I got that first holiday card in December.

This year, I have no job. But, a good friend recently wrote on his holiday greeting to me that I should think of my current job-less state in a more positive way. He suggested that I enjoy my luxurious free time and think of it instead as being "on sabbatical". No matter what you call my forced vacation, I had plenty of time for a holiday project, to not only send holiday cards, but to make my own. While I was sorting through a stack of old photographs at my dad's house, looking for the rare photo of my step-mom with my son, I found this wonderful photo which my step-mother had taken of the trees in the backyard covered in winter ice and glinting in the noonday sun, the perfect photo for my holiday card. Fortunately we live in a technological age, where a photo can be copied and the copy will be as perfect as the original, negatives no longer needed. Fifty copies of that stunning photograph later, I was all set. It didn't matter that I needed to spend hours cutting and glueing and printing my greeting on card stock, signing, addressing and stamping these beauties before I could send them out; I had the time. After all, I was on sabbatical.

For the record, I have to admit that I sent out a similar number of e-cards as well. These went to those people for whom I do not have a physical address -- colleagues, recruiters, a few of my son's closest friends that I am still in touch with through cyberspace, my chorus buddies, and several others.

I am very aware that, eventually, the sending of hand-delivered holiday cards is likely to go the way of the smoke signal. And, I have to admit that sending e-cards is much easier and faster (not to mention more environmentally friendly) than sending hard copy greetings, even if you don't make your own. But that's OK, as long as some form of communication remains. After all, it is the act of staying in touch with our friends and family that really matters.

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