Opinion

Commentary: Remembering what matters on a slow day

The sky has sent us a fitting end to a year unlike any other in memory.

Snow, ice and freezing rain have, over the past week, forced us to slow down.

At first, we adapted badly.

Cutting down the speed no longer comes as naturally to us as it should.

On the freeways, even those coated in ice, slowing down inspires incivility in other drivers.

On the job, with more demands and fewer resources, it’s unacceptable.

On the home front, where we strive to be seasonal overachievers, it makes us guilty and grumpy.

Even so, we hardly ever push back against the expectations arrayed around us.

So the weather did it for us.

It spun us out like a red pickup on black ice.

The inconvenience has carried with it an unexpected gift: The opportunity to rethink the pace we've set for ourselves.

It's given us a chance to process how we'll adapt to the strange new economic world.

The equity in our homes burst and evaporated, along with jobs in real estate, construction and furniture sales. We paid double for summertime gas, figured the van couldn’t have made it to Disneyland and back anyway, and that van has to last. The banks tanked. If we weren't "right-sized" out of a job, we took on the workloads of our laid-off colleagues. We slammed an extra decade into our retirement timeline.

It's as if we got whapped with a board, blinked, and got whapped again, and then again, each time from a different direction.

No wonder we haven't gotten oriented.

To our credit, we have stepped up and done what we do best in a crisis: We have helped the people who have it worse than we do. It was not entirely altruistic. We needed the endorphins released by a few decent deeds.

Even with that boost, we were unsettled as we headed into the holidays.

Trees, it seemed, were the canary in the mine. If all was well in a household, the tree went up on time. If someone had lost a job, or hours, seen friends fired or, even worse, had to lay off colleagues, the tree came late, if at all.

One Boeing supervisor I know, famous for her towering, perfect trees, was still trying to muster the will to find one in mid-December. She could wrap presents for needy children. She was one of thousands of Boeing employees who, even after the financial and emotional pain of a strike, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep the food bank system stocked. But the celebratory element of the holiday was hiding from her.

It was that way all over.

Then the snow fell on the biggest holiday shopping weekend of the season. At Macy's, shoppers who'd braved a navigable gap in the precipitation thanked sales associates for being there and being helpful.

Customers at fast food drive-throughs realized how tough the trip to work was for the minimum wage employee handing the fries out the window. "Merry Christmas," the customers said. "Drive carefully."

Safe at home, we reveled in the excuse not to go out again. For once, we took the advice to stay home as a gift, not a challenge. That's made for days of sitting in pajamas, brewing pots of tea, watching movies that are an utter waste of time, and not feeling guilty.

It's prompted us to say we've bought enough, and we will be happier with more quiet time and fewer presents. It's a decision ripe for turning into a tradition.

We have pitied the poor souls stuck at the airport, and rethought our travel plans. If Portland is going to ice our car, if Interstate 5 is going to spit broken tire chains at us, maybe we should delay holiday travel. Why endanger the people we love? If we can make it safely, we will. If not, we have plans B and C ready.

We will find a slower, quieter way to have a merry, little Christmas.

We will thank the snow for bringing new possibilities with it.

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