First of all, allow me to remind you that we have exactly one month before we awaken to Christmas morning. I expect half of you will look at that fact with eager anticipation, hoping for a light dusting of snow, and a starlit Christmas Eve, when you will drive home slowly from the Candlelight service and look at all the beautiful Christmas lights… except there is a better than even chance there won’t be a candlelight service, and CoVid gives us a better than even chance as well that the folks gathered around our Christmas eve table – where we have clam chowder every year – will be a much smaller group. Cheri said it best as we sat and had coffee this morning, looking at all the lists of presents: “This just isn’t much fun…”
So, I challenge you, as I challenge my own family to create new ways of “fun.” For instance, when we got a catalog in the mail earlier this fall, there was a red quilt with a snowflake design on it that Cheri remarked about. I thought it was pretty as well, and then she said, “I’ve been looking at this quilt for our bed for the last five years…” That was a signal. This was something the lady was interested in! I quietly went online and ordered it, had it come, and then set the package on the bed. When she came home after work, Cheri was thrilled, and then set about hunting for the just-right set of sheets to go with it.
This morning, on Thanksgiving Eve, she jumped things just a little and put the Christmas quilt and sheets on the almost-Christmas season bed. Of course, she had to tear it all off again, as she forgot to put the blanket on as well, but it was a grand and happy gesture – making our own “fun.”
Later on today, we will chop up things for the stuffing that will cook tomorrow, along with the fresh turkey that is resting quietly in the cooler, in the 40 degree temperature garage. We are also keeping the pies out there. It’s nice, up here in the north, in the wintertime, to have a giant walk-in refrigerator where we can store the overabundance of food. We just have to watch when it gets down to -20 in February, that we are careful not to leave the bottles of Sprite, or the unopened containers of grape juice in the garage. On occasion, we have experienced the explosion of frozen items… not good.
But we will work to have fun these days, and enjoy the holiday idleness of jigsaw puzzles and sitting in the dark by the gas fireplace as the day winds to a close – and just talk about things that are good to talk about.
But that’s not what the title of today’s little writing assignment describes. Instead, let me describe what my computer screen looked like this morning. In my email, it’s always exciting to see a message in my Inbox. Well, often it’s exciting, except when I have used my email to order something online, since I really detest going out and shopping these pandemic days. Plus, it’s a whole other set of fun to order something, and a few days later, a big package is dropped on your doorstep! It’s sort of a surprise, even though you know what it is, and that you paid for it. It’s still fun.
The unintended consequence, however, is that since you wrote such a nice order to any company, asking for them to send you something in the mail or UPS or FedEx, they seem to think that you want to continue hearing from them. Daily. So, my Inbox ends up being their junk mail depository. “Well – since you ordered that very pretty Christmas quilt for your bed, we just KNOW that you will also want to order the gray, resin-molded long-legged frog with buggy eyes that you can put in your garden next spring after the snow melts, to bring the wonderful sense of whimsy and surprise to your outdoor world. Frogs and Christmas quilts were just meant to go together, so be sure to order today!”
Now, I am not one to run willy-nilly toward resin-molded frogs, even on my worst day, and so I respectfully decline the offer, and hit the “move to trash” button. That’s all fine, except the next morning, I run to quickly open up my Inbox, and find another email: “We noticed you still have not ordered the resin-molded frog yet, so we will give you 12% off your order if you make it happen today! While we are at it, we are sure you will also want the micro-flying drone that you can use inside to terrorize your cats and your spouse. This one’s a winner, so put that in the cart with the frog, and no one gets hurt…” Move to trash.
The next day, of course, I am ready to delete the junk email, when I discover there are two more junk emails, from two companies I’ve never heard of before. These folks, for some reason, have knowledge about my medical history, and want to make sure I have the chance to order pills that shrink fat, lower blood sugar and make my memory 500 times more powerful. And their friend decided to write me and see if I’d like to take a trip to Las Vegas, or go on a 7 day cruise. My finger gets a bit tired of hitting the “move to trash” button, but it happens.
One of my favorite things to click on in my email is the button that says, “block sender.” I feel like Oprah Winfrey as I click the button over and over – “You get a block! And You get a block! And YOU….” Magically, they disappear from my inbox, never to be seen again. What a wonderful tool.
However, like all magic tricks, it is only an illusion. It doesn’t really block all those emails from people I don’t know and don’t want to know. What it does, is, as the emails are making their way across cyberspace to my computer, a trap door opens, and they drop into “spamland.” It’s a category for emails that no one wants, needs or even wants to look at to reconsider. They become like email zombies – the walking dead.
Yet – they don’t know they are dead. They don’t know they are unwanted and unneeded. They keep getting sent every day, and they keep finding new friends to introduce me to, who also have something for me to buy. I block them too, but they don’t get the hint, and so it goes and grows. This morning, I had three new emails of junk that came to my inbox, but when I looked down at my Spam folder, I saw that overnight, I ended up with 235 spam emails, that just sit quietly on my computer, until I go through and delete them forever – sort of like jettisoning the zombies into cyberspace. The reason I don’t watch zombie movies, though, is that it’s always the same. You can’t get rid of them all. They just keep coming and coming and coming – all because you wanted to do something nice for your wife, and order a red quilt for the bed.
I suppose it would all end if eventually I never ordered anything online again. That of course would mean I have to go physically and shop in all sorts of stores that are ready to sell me things, but also put me in the contest for getting a free exposure to a pandemic virus. This is not fun.
Unintended consequences spring up at every turn in our lives. We can’t predict the future, and even with thoughtful intentional living, we can’t control each and every consequence, and indeed, they become spirals of things we never would have imagined happening. The best we can do is to calmly and carefully set up the fences in our lives that keep the bad consequences at bay. And, in terms of spamland, maybe just turn off the computer now and then – of course, only after you have read my column… Your life belongs to you. Intentionally, you can live that way.
Word of the day: oblivescence. Pronounced ob-luh-VESS-uns. We do find a couple of close cousins to these words in “oblivious” and “oblivion.” From the Latin, ob, meaning “over” and levi, meaning “smooth.” The word means literally to “smooth over,” except it deals with something in the mind, and not sandpapering a piece of wood. It is the state of simply forgetting, or the state of forgetfulness. What we should have as an image in our mind becomes smoothed over, and unrecognizable. Of course, part of what each of us is, is absent-mindedness, or forgetting things that may not matter, or no longer have value in our lives. Our minds have to reset from time to time, and forget. Some of us, however, have very quick reset buttons, and it’s like we can’t remember anything. Those are truly the oblivescent ones, and they are to be pitied and admired at the same time. Why? I forget…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.