Carol always looked like the Queen of Christmas. She actually looked like the queen all the time, but at Christmas she particularly stood out. She was a perfectionist through and through, but to outsiders she looked calm and completely in control. Her husband, Ron, knew better, but that’s always the case when you live with someone who appears flawless – no one’s flawless. Everyone has bad moments, and if you don’t have them in public, you’re having that home. The unfortunate truth is family is often the recipient of exploding bottled up emotions, so be weary of perfect looking people. Ron knew this lesson well.
Every Christmas Carol had the house covered inside and out with beautiful decorations. Friends would stop by just to see how she decorated the house that year and they would lavish her with praise… if they could find her. Typically, it was Ron who did most of the welcoming because she was so busy. Nothing was ever simple with Carol and it showed. Everything she did was stunning. She had impeccable taste, especially with Christmas décor. The biggest problem, however, was her taste could be a bit pricey, which meant Ron had to do a lot of extra shifts to help pay for things, but he never complained… at least to her. He knew not to mess with her this time of year. In fact, her anxieties helped him be grateful to be at work more because that meant he couldn’t be yelled at… most of the time.
One night when he was finishing a double shift, he received a phone call from his very panicked and angry wife screaming at him for not being at home to help her. He knew she was just anxious, but it was hard not to be upset by the way she talked to him, especially when he was exhausted from work that he was doing to help her afford all she was doing. As good and patient as Ron could be, sometimes she got to him. On this particular occasion she was angry he wasn’t at home, but she also needed him to go to the store on the way home to pick up a few things she forgot. She was very angry at him because she wouldn’t have forgotten those things if she hadn’t been watching the kids while he was at work. No matter what he did, he’d get in trouble. She was very good at spinning the blame to make everything his fault.
Between being tired from work, dealing with the hurt from being yelled at, the fear of being yelled at more when he got home, and then being given a list of chores to do, Ron was feeling really anxious himself now. The second he was able to leave, Ron rushed out of work and darted to the store to get what was needed at home. Running through the store like a husband rushing his pregnant wife to the hospital, he was in and out like a flash and jumped in his car to get the stuff to his wife.
Unfortunately, he never made it home… and that made Carol furious. She couldn’t figure out why he was so late. Was he trying to punish her for expecting him to help out or was he just fluffing off her needs like some secretly alcoholic husband. While these options whirled through her mind making her angrier and angrier, she received a phone call from the hospital saying her husband was in a car accident. After getting the neighbors to watch the kids, Carol sped off to the hospital with mixed emotions. Part of her was really scared for her husband while the other part – if she was being completely honest – was angry that he was getting in the way of her preparing the perfect Christmas.
Carol’s underlying anger continued to fester and grow until she saw Ron in the hospital. For the first time she noticed how tired he looked… or maybe that was the meds. Regardless he looked awful. He’d been cut up pretty badly in the accident and two nurses were busy pulling out what looked like bits of broken glass lodged in his face. In that moment, all concern for the perfect Christmas vanished. All the stress about anything completely vanished. Everything Carol had been worried about, whether getting the perfect presents or making all the perfect goodies to share, organizing the perfect games to play with friends, or hiring the perfect piano player and carolers to lead in the carol sing, none of that mattered now. It seemed so small.
When Ron saw Carol he tried to smile, but she could tell he was in pain. She slowly moved towards his bed like a dog sheepishly approaching his master after getting caught making a mess. All the anger she’d been feeling towards him was now flipped back on herself. It was all her fault. She wasn’t sure how he’d respond. He wouldn’t have been in the accident if it wasn’t for her. She should never have asked him to help. She should’ve done it herself. In that moment she vowed to have an even better Christmas celebration than ever before, but she’d do it all herself. She wouldn’t even let him work extra to pay for anything. She’d work more and do more at home. It was her problem, so it was up to her to make it work.
As Carol was having these thoughts, Ron said, “I’m guessing you’re feeling guilty right now.” She tried to deny it, but he continued, “You know what I’d like this year for Christmas?” Carol braced herself to hear him ask for that new TV he’d been wanting for awhile. After a slight pause he said, “An imperfect Christmas.” Carol was taken aback. An imperfect Christmas? He must have hit his head harder than she thought. Ron continued, “I remember as a kid Christmas was messy and chaotic. I was never afraid of damaging a decoration and I had time to relax and enjoy the holidays. Since you’ve taken over, the Christmas Eve parties have been exhausting and terribly stressful. Instead of fun, I’m terrified of getting yelled at because I usually end up being yelled at every day in December, and then afterwards you spend a month complaining about how the party should’ve been better.”
Carol wasn’t sure how to respond. She hadn’t been that bad… had she?
Whether it was being in a public place with witnesses or being in a hospital bed with glass lodged in his face after surviving a car accident, something made John braver than ever before. He continued, “I know the holidays are important to you and you want to make every year perfect, but… you make Christmas miserable.”
Carol was more in shock from that comment than hearing Ron was in an accident. Even the nurses suddenly stopped pulling out the glass from his face and slowly stepped away. He was about to have another “accident.”
“We’ll give you two a moment,” said the one nurse.
“We don’t want to be witnesses in court,” added the other as they scurried out of the room.
Carol had always prided herself on how amazing she made Christmas. How could he say she made them miserable? She was suddenly torn between guilt and wanting to rip into him for being so hurtful.
While Carol’s mind was whirling, Ron gently said, “I love you.” Carol was still too in shock to respond. “I love you, but at Christmas you’re mean and you hurt me a lot.” Maybe it was the sincerity in his voice or the blood dripping down his face, but Carol didn’t take that comment personally like she normally would. “These cuts are nothing… well, no they hurt, they really hurt… at least they will when the drugs wear off, but you have no idea how much it hurts me to see you so stressed on top of constantly being yelled at all December. I love you, but December is the worst. You are such a kind and generous person to everyone else except me, especially at Christmas. To others you’re great, but you get so worried about impressing people that this other side takes over and you’re like a different person. It doesn’t make any sense to me. You’re so worried about impressing random strangers who don’t matter and you get obsessed with trying to impress your friends who already love you. There’s no one of importance whose love you don’t already have.
This night was full of surprises. A few hours before Carol was busy trying to get things ready for the perfect Christmas and now she was in the hospital with her worn out husband asking for an imperfect Christmas because she was mean… what was happening? How could she have been so blind… or was he just being selfish? Carol looked at her husband and staring into his eyes she saw the hurt and it suddenly dawned on her that she’d seen this hurt many times before, but she just brushed it off as him being ungrateful for all she was doing. Turns out she was being ungrateful for all he was doing for her because he didn’t enjoy the “perfect” Christmases she provided. She knew she didn’t enjoy them, but she slaved away thinking everyone else benefited, but did they? In some way many people must have, but the person she cared about the most didn’t, so maybe she should rethink this. Maybe she should stop trying to make everyone happy and trying to prove she was worthy of their friendship. Anyone who needed her to prove she was worthy wasn’t a good friend anyway. She didn’t expect others to prove anything to her, so why would they expect that of her?
As always, Carol’s brain was going a hundred miles a minute (or 160.934km’s if you’re Canadian like me), but this time it wasn’t about having the perfect Christmas, it was to figure out her motives and what she should be doing in the future.
After spending most of the night with her husband, she stopped at the store to pick up a couple groceries for the family to have for the next couple days while she visited Ron in the hospital. While walking the aisles, she couldn’t help but smile to herself. She had never really considered her husband as wise, but he really showed it tonight. He was always so passive that she didn’t notice. It was really wonderful to see.
While in the grocery line she looked at the magazine covers as many do and the one title caught her attention: “Make this an Imperfect Christmas: Stop trying to impress your friends.” Carol started laughing. Of course… but as she tried to be positive, she thought wise people don’t have to come up with their own wise ideas; they just need to recognize wise teachings when they’re presented. Considering Ron was pretty heavily medicated when he was talking, he must be wise to have remembered the article. Either way, she loved her husband and he didn’t need to prove anything to her just like she now realized she didn’t need to prove anything for him. She just needed to accept his love and that she was already good enough. And just like she would work on accepting that he loved her for her and that she didn’t need to earn anything, she would try to do the same with her friends. She would no longer have to be perfect. Instead, she would simply be nice because being nice is the right thing do. That Christmas was going to be perfect in an imperfect way and it would be a time to really experience the love the season has to offer.
Rev Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, Learning to love dumb people (like me)