Christmas morning with my parents – whether in Canada or abroad – was always a buoyant atmosphere. My mother, in addition to lavish household decorations, gifts and endless baking, ensured an appropriate punctuation of the moment by first serving Champagne in fresh squeezed orange juice. The breakfast – tender filet mignon, creamy yellow scrambled eggs, croissants with butter and homemade strawberry jam – was so rich and fulfilling that we often interrupted our dining pleasure to re-visit the drawing room beside the Christmas tree to investigate more presents or to read my father’s recently composed and handwritten Yuletide message to the family.
Driving about the verdant countryside today in my car while the calendar nears the first day of summer may seem an odd time to recollect Christmas family tradition but the similarity is the deep and pacific sensation accompanying the event. Both moments are pleasantly and uncommonly tranquillizing.
The heightened emotional moments throughout my life all seem to have had the compounds of society, food, drink and materialism. Over time the specifics of each has altered. Predictably with age many of the constituents have diminished or been seriously diluted. Because of the pandemic, social gatherings of any description are practically forbidden or strangely accommodated by awkward distancing. Perrier and San Pellegrino – directly out of the bottle rather than poured tastefully into a crystal tumbler or stemware – is today’s source of cultivated thirst quenching; gone are the days of the vodka martini, single malt whiskey, sherry or porto. There are some who skillfully persist in old habits including cigarettes. We however prefer to maintain the semblance of sobriety and healthfulness though we readily confess the allure of the erstwhile indulgences! Once given over to contemplation it is but a whimsical descent into any number of material absorptions. It is a distinct advantage of aging that one is increasingly capable of bearing the deprivation of things. The canonical wisdom of Ecclesiastes pervades the mind.
“While Qoheleth clearly endorses wisdom as a means for a well-lived earthly life, he is unable to ascribe eternal meaning to it. In light of this perceived senselessness, he suggests that one should enjoy the simple pleasures of daily life such as eating, drinking, and taking enjoyment in one’s work, which are gifts from the hand of God.”
It is naturally easy to be persuaded by such indisputable logic. One must however preserve a hand on the tiller. While there are two ways down the river – namely, where to go and where not to go – the overriding decision remains one’s own. I have learned the hard way that the strength of conduct lies strictly within not without. In the result many of the alternatives for society, food, drink and materialism are uniquely one’s own and may therefore vary wildly from what others may choose for themselves. It frequently amounts to enormous advertisement for one or another choice but one must be guided by what works best for oneself. Fortunately it is a casualty of old age that, in the distillation process, the identification of the right choice becomes easier.