Late again, as always. I never seem to start until cards show up in my mailbox.
Here I sit, on the morning of December 18th, crunching the same old formula: Start with expected delivery times to various points domestic and foreign -- well, it's way too late for foreign -- then consider the schedule and likely location for each recipient, set priorities according to which people will forgive me for a late card, then shut it all out and start sending cards anyway.
Some people will get a card no matter what: the family, even the uncle I practically never hear from and the newest member, a future sister-in-law who I think I've spent a total of six hours with. Bonds like that, old or new, are built to last, and a Christmas card is like water on a favorite plant.
Next come the old friends who are practically family, though some of them make me cringe a little. Have I really not communicated with this guy since the last card? We were like brothers a few years back. And this woman here: She's built a house since last year's card, and I don't know a thing about it. And this one, who sent me a picture of himself and his son: Are they both really that old now? He and I really do need to spend some time in the woods together, but I'm looking at his picture and I see a dad. A dad who lives in Detroit. Do Detroit dads backpack? Are those days really gone?
Here's another cringer: a guy I hired for his first newspaper job. Now I write newsletters for an insurance company, and he covers Super Bowls. Put away the envy and send the card.
Another one with a kid. Last I saw him he was single, and I was rolling through Texas on some Greyhound, wandering. Now he's a TV producer, and I get three weeks off per year.
What do you say to these people? Still alive! Hope you're happy! Sorry I never call! Are we still friends? Sometimes sending a card seems like so little to do. Don't these old bonds deserve better treatment?
Then there's the cynical voice: Most of these people don't even send me cards! Here I am, sending over 100 this year, once again with a picture that has me in it, and for all I know they're opening it up and saying, "Geez, is he still doing this? Why doesn't he just let it go? We're not 23 anymore!"
For example, there's a woman in San Francisco I always send a card to. And on the rare occasion when we speak, she always says she appreciates it. In the last 10 years, I think we've shared two meals. She has a husband I've never met. So part of me wonders, Why bother sending a card? Am I feeding my ego here? Clinging to some half-remembered past?
Well, yes. And I'm also doing the slightest thing to renew the bond we share, because one time, years ago, in another life perhaps, if only for a brief time, she and I were very close. And I intend to honor that. And because one day we just might meet again, when I get back on the road. If these silly cards -- scenic view, me, Santa hat -- have somehow kept the bond strong, they will have served a very high purpose.
I just might, for example, find myself in Alabama one day and have time to swing through Huntsville. I've got people there. They came to Memphis in '95 to see the Dead, and we bonded in that insanity. I went to see them the following year, and now we trade Christmas cards. I know their girls are growing up, that one has left the house, and they know that I'm still single, working in a cubicle, and dreaming that soon I'll rid myself of this troublesome thing called employment and go back to the life where I might call from the Birmingham bus station and say, "Hey, what are you doing for dinner tonight?"
I might get down to Florida and catch up with the Wayfaring Man. I knew him as a vagabond, hiking the Appalachian Trail, with addresses like General Delivery, Flagstaff, Arizona. His last few cards have come from someplace called Spring Hill, Florida, where he has a sickly uncle who needs his help.
If I ever get back to England, I could see a college friend there. It's been so long that when she sent a picture with last year's card, it took me a minute to figure out which one was her. We were seriously crazy back then and probably would be still -- for the first couple of hours. She's a mom and I gave up drinking, but I bet the bond is still there.
As far as I know, I still have a meal coming in Selcuk, Turkey. I send cards every year but haven't heard back in a while. It's actually been 14 years since I was there -- did my back just get stiff? -- and a card, at this point, is an act of faith and hope.
Sara's sticking it out in New York, Mark will (I assume) land in St. Louis for Christmas, Randy in Johnson City lost his mom this year, Ron and Mindy have moved to Vermont, Jeff and his wife are back together, Blair has another baby, Neal is gearing up for another trip to Asia
And they're all going to hear from me at, or maybe just after, Christmas.