If your future self gave you a call this season, what would he say? Carpe diem—and don’t let tourists ruin the holidays.
Two years ago, my oldest boy figured out that Christmas meant presents. When he came downstairs, he found a Formula One racecar that doubled as a tent. For 20 minutes, he ignored every other present that was waiting for him under the tree, and crawled under that tent, made racecar sounds, and clambered around the living room.
The other presents could wait; they would eventually get their turn and his undivided attention. This, however, was the moment for the racecar tent.
The Nantucket holiday season begins with the Vineyard game. Stands and fences are jammed with familiar faces. Folks blow on their hands and stomp their feet in the cold. As the great gray lid of winter fastens itself over the island, the wind picks up, a few flakes hit your cheeks, and it’s time to find the wool and seal the windows.
For dozens of men in the stands, their memories still hold the pain of the open field tackle, the humiliation of the fumbled handoff, and the glory of the leaping catch in the end zone. Every one of these men thinks that if they had a month to get back in shape, they could still play. I’d think it pathetic of them—but I believe it myself.
My memory has been more faithful than my muscles. I remember the locker, the plays, the pads, and the walk up to Landrigan Field. I was an indifferent player on a bad team; I cared about far more than Saturday’s results. But if I could play again, I would be a Johnny Damon–like “idiot” and just enjoy throwing myself around.
My fellow football fanatics and I stand behind the fence with our hands in our pockets watching the game. I don’t think we want any more football glory; I think we simply realize that we didn’t enjoy it then as much as we could have. All of the slings and arrows of adolescence were upon us and prevented us from enjoying the pleasure of slamming into one another.
Were I to pick up the phone and call my younger self, I would tell him to stop worrying about the future and start enjoying the present. Get in there and hit somebody. But what would my older self think? Would he tell me the same thing—to stop worrying about national politics, the career, the sewers, and the missed putts, and simply enjoy the days?
Culling and editing a greeting-card list, for example, is one of the ugliest jobs of the season. This one divorced, this one married, this one’s address is gone, this one has a new child, this one passed away. My future self would counsel me to focus on those names that remain. Holidays should be a good time to celebrate what abides and endures, not bewail what is gone forever.
For many islanders, Christmas Stroll is a time to remember how it used to be: there were fewer people in town, more bargains available, better snacks for sale. Tourists transformed the event into a waltz of the wallets, a parade of mink coats and credit cards, flashy earrings and awful ties. They come forcefully and take over those few inns and restaurants that remain.
But the tradition has abided and endured. The visitors love December in Nantucket just as the locals do: the children’s holiday decorations, the carolers, the town crier, the funny hats. They want to sink into the atmosphere—to walk around, eat chowder, meet friends, have cocktails, and buy pants with embroidered trees. To them it feels like Christmas.
When we go home and work on our TV tans, does it feel equally festive? If my future self called me up, would he recommend that I keep turning channels until I found another Law & Order? Or would he want me downtown in a funny hat next to the tree with the most toy trucks on it?
These are the checkpoints of the holidays, when I can’t help but think of what we’ve lost.
Time robs us of everything. Time took away the pleasure of football as it will, eventually, take away the pleasure of friends and family. When we only think of what we want or will lose, we miss what we have. Then, the clock runs out, everyone shakes hands, and we turn in our helmets and shoulder pads forever. While we can, we should sit on a bench and watch the funny clothes and hats go by. Since we can’t make time stand still, perhaps we can tickle it.
My Christmas wish for my son is that he not forget the racecar tent. Rather, when he sees that first present under the tree, he immerses himself in it and loves the moment as it happens, without second thoughts, memories, or regrets. Enjoy the now. Life is too short to stand behind the team bench waiting for the past to call your number and send you in.