Sunday, December 7, 2008

On Decoration

I'm staring at the poinsettia on the dining room table. It's a small poinsettia: moderately healthy, inordinately red, more than a little insouciant. It was thrust into my hands as I was leaving a staff Christmas party. Protesting seemed futile -who spurns a potted plant?- nor could I, in conscience, heave a living thing out of the car window at 60 miles an hour. And Lo, it came to Pass that on the Friday before the Second Sunday of Advent, I took the thing home and plunked it on the table.

It hulks, the poinsettia. It casts a malevolent red shadow longer than its five or six inches warrant. Crouched next to the plant is the ear of decorative corn that came in my CSA share and which I tried, and failed, to eat. Even though it is Advent, even though Christmas shimmers in the shadows like some blind, deep-water fish, the poinsettia and the ear of corn are (and will remain) the only encroachment of the Great Dark Army of Decoration into my house.

I am not a decorator. This is a bedrock kind of character trait, buried down deep with introversion and hot-headedness and sensitivity to noise. When I was growing up I refused to wear anything but buttonless, zipperless, of-a-piece clothes in solid colors, which caused my southern-belle grandmother to frown at her DAR membership card and grumble about elves.

I have lived a lifetime of white walls, bare windows, and furniture I dragged off the curb. It's not that I am especially clean or tidy or austere; rather, my decorationlessness springs from some soul-deep laziness, some profound disinclination to go the extra mile or the extra millimeter. I eat out of the pan so as not to have to wash dishes. I do not make the bed. When I walk, I cut unhesitatingly across greenswards and parking lots and flowerbeds, seeking always that sweetest, shortest line.

Most of the time, I am resigned to this particular facet of my personality. After all, a thousand poinsettias didn't save Martha Stewart from having to wear an ankle bracelet, and those of my neighbors who put up elaborate, ghostly displays in their yards for Halloween have to take them down now. IN THE SNOW.

Still, this morning as I traipsed past the Christmas tree sale at the big, old neighborhood church, I felt in my soul the barren pang of the Undecorated. It was a blazing, frozen morning. The men dragging Christmas trees out into the churchyard sported jaunty red noses and ostrich plumes of breath. Someone helped a young mother heave a tree onto the back of her truck; a hale, behatted young man marched off down the street with a six-footer tucked beneath his arm. Toward the middle of the yard, two wizened men threw branches onto a fire; the air filled with the mingled scents of pine and smoke.

What is missing in me, I thought, that I don't want this in my life? That I'm not frantically figuring out how to squish a Douglas fir into the back of my Plymouth Acclaim, that I neglect to make room in my heart for green, for glitter, for a tree-topper that flashes "Merry X-mas" like a disco ball drunk on peppermint schnapps?

Hunkered in the steeple's shadow, I wondered if I lacked something important. If I was born without some flourish, some essential grace of humanity, like a baby born without toenails. By then I was already cutting across the churchyard, hands in my pockets, the wind slapping my cheeks into bloom.

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