christmas

December 24, 2001

Man, I had some night last night! It could have been written by Dickens. I went to bed, fell asleep and was jolted awake by loud sounds. Sounds of chains rattling. When I opened my eyes, I was staring at, like, an apparition. It was this dude wrapped in old chains and boy, was this cat ugly. His face looked like a collection of mushrooms, topped by strands of rotting straw.

So I said, “Who the eff are you?”
He grimly replied, “Yo, I am the Ghost of Christmas Past.” I thought that if this guy smiled, his face would crack.
I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming, so I said, “Say what?”
He said, “The Ghost of Christmas past.”
I said, “Yeah, right.”
Mushroom Face then said, “Yeah, that’s right”

Next thing I knew, I was on a trip revisiting my life — in full color and in full detail. Man, that was something. I revisited some good times, but there were a lot more bad times. I saw how I had hurt others, and how many others had hurt me. There I was, in times of fun, but there were too many times of shame and pain and embarrassment.

Through all of this, my arrogance hit me in the face like a boulder, as did my tendency toward anger. I also got a good look at every fear that I had ever experienced. But there was no experience of the past I was able to avoid looking at with old Mushroom Face right next to me, his chains rattling and all.

This felt like it took fifty something years, but suddenly, I was back in my bedroom looking at the clock and only fifteen minutes had passed.

To say the least, I was pretty shaken up and a bit unhappy. All I could manage to say was “Wow.”
Mushroom Face, dour as ever, said, “Terry Roberts, that was your past, pal.”

I said, “Wow!” But this time, with more emphasis — I couldn’t think of anything else. I was not a happy camper.

Then Mushroom Face did the unexpected: all his chains just fell to the ground and he smiled and said, “Terry, that was your past. But it’s done, it’s gone, it doesn’t exist anymore, so just fuggetaboutit.”
I said, “Fuggetaboutit?”
He said, “Fuggetaboutit!”
Now, at this point, I had a line of questions piling up in my mind longer than the Christmas Eve line of customers at Wal-Mart. He sensed this and said, “Just forget about it”

Then old Mushroom Face disappeared, along with his chains.

You’d think that his trip would be enough for one night. I did, anyway. I somehow rolled over and fell asleep again.

But not for long, because soon enough there were chains again rattling there at the foot of my bed.
“He’s back again,” I thought to myself.

So I opened my eyes and there, at the foot of my bed, was another ugly dude. But it wasn’t Mushroom Face. This dude was also wrapped in chains, but he was fatter and his face looked like a group of prickly pear cactus, with thorns coming out of his head. (And here I’d thought Mushroom Face was ugly.) Just like Mushroom Face, Cactus Head wasn’t smiling either.

I managed to utter, “And just who the eff are you?”
Grimacing, Cactus Head said to me, as if I should know, “I am the Ghost of Christmas Future.”
“Right,” I said.
“Right,” he said.

And then, before I knew it, I’m gone again on just about the wildest trip I’ve ever taken. It was like this dude had flung me into my future, except that it wasn’t just one future life, it was thousands of possible future lives. I watched one unfold, then another and another — more and more, they just kept coming like a baseball-pitching machine run amuck.

Some future days were great, some were awful and some were mixed. There were even a few where I died the next day.

But they just kept coming, as though I was being shown every possible future that could be mine, depending on which of an infinite number of variables affected each one.

This experience seemed to go on for about 4,000 years, and all the time ugly Cactus Head was standing next to me, offering snide commentary and rattling his chains. To say the least, it was awesome and downright terrifying.

The next thing I knew, I was back laying in bed and according to my clock, only fifteen minutes had gone by.

I was out of breath, and could only come up with one comment: “Wow.”
“Wow,” ugly Cactus Head said. He was still standing at the foot of my bed.
Next thing I knew, this dude’s chains just fell off, and then he smiled.
“Cool,” I thought to myself.
Smiling, he said, “So, Terry those weren’t even all the possible futures for you, just a preview of some.”
After a short pause, he spoke again. “I’ve got some advice for you, pal.”
“You do?” I said.
“Yup,” he said as he picked his chains off the floor. “It’s just the future, so don’t worry about it.”
“Say what?” I asked.
Cactus Head actually grinned and then repeated himself. “Just don’t worry about it, pal.”
Now, I had a lot of questions for this cat. Wouldn’t you?
Sensing this, he said, “You have a lot of questions, don’t you?”
“You bet your ugly face I do,” I said.
But he just laughed and said, “Forget about ‘em and don’t worry about it.”
So much for my questions.

Then Cactus Head, chains and all, disappeared in a puff of odorless smoke.

So far, this night seemed to consist of two major league weird trips. They may have been dreams, but I didn’t think so. Both trips, I noticed, conveyed the same message: “Forget about it and don’t worry about it.”

This put me into a momentary state of deep intellectual reflection where my thoughts consisted, almost exclusively, of the single word “Wow.”

Now, I was seriously exhausted. To say the least, it had been a hell of a night, and it was only half past midnight. I needed some sleep, knowing that I had to be here to do my radio show today.
I figured nothing else could possibly happen, so I rolled over and instantly fell asleep.

The next thing I knew, I woke up to the near-overwhelming smell of night-blooming jasmine. “Oh no, not again” I thought.

I tried to just keep my eyes closed in hopes that it would just go away. But it didn’t.

Then I heard a kind of mellow voice that said, “Hey pal, you can’t keep your eyes closed forever.”
I got the feeling that whoever was behind this voice wasn’t leaving, so I opened my eyes and there he was, another apparition standing at the end of my bed.

Now this guy had a face like a giant sunflower, and instead of being wrapped in chains, he was wrapped in vines of flowers that gave off his odor.

I said, “Can you turn the odor down a notch or two?”
Sunflower Face laughed and said, “Hi, I’m the Ghost of Christmas Present.”
I didn’t say anything, so he repeated his introduction. “I’m the ghost of Christmas present.”
“Right,” I said.
“Right,” he said, and off we went again, me and Sunflower Face, through a universe that smelled like night-blooming jasmine.

The trip this time seemed a bit gentler. Now, I was just visiting everything that was going on in my life right now, starting with all the colors of life, which I had to admit was pretty cool.

Then we checked in on all of my friends and saw all the love in my life, all the suffering in me and the world and all the joy in the world.

I got to see all of it: my arrogance, my shame, my embarrassments. All of it. My daughter, my niece, my mother and sister, my dog and my parrot — they were all there.

This trip also seemed like it was lasting a lifetime, but before I knew it I was back in bed. Again, according to my clock, it had just been fifteen minutes and, predictably by now, old Sunflower Face was standing at the end of the bed.

I knew I had to say something, so I fell back on the reliable, “Wow, man.”
He said, “Did you pay attention, pal?”
I started to ask, “Pay attention to what?” but I stopped, because suddenly I was aware of how deeply quiet it was.
Through the window, moonlight gently flowed in, adding a glow to my bedroom. Looking out the window, I saw the twinkle of stars and the vast night sky.
I said to Sunflower Face, “Was I paying attention?”
He said, “Yup.”
I said, “Yeah, I was paying attention. And it was beautiful.”
Sunflower Face said, “Yup, it is beautiful. And it’s all going to be okay.”
“Wow,” I said.
Then, with a smile and a twinkle of the eye, ol’ Sunflower Face was gone, and only the smell of night-blooming jasmine remained.

Now, it was finally quiet and I was tired, but far from exhausted.
That’s this man’s Christmas Story, my friends.
The past is over and done with, so forget about it. The future doesn’t exist yet, so don’t worry about it.
It really is okay, all of it.
God bless you all.

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