Growing up, we would go to Christmas Eve service at church every year. There were carols, the same sermon inspired by the stripes on a candy cane, a reading of the Christmas Story, and a simple rendition of Silent Night that the congregation would sing while lighting each other’s candles, slowly spreading light in the darkened sanctuary. While as an adult the nativity isn't part of my celebration, there is one verse from the Christmas Story that has stayed with me and continues to have real meaning, even beyond the holidays:
“Mary treasured up all these [moments] and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19
As the story goes, she’s just ridden a donkey, very pregnant, for a long way and then delivered her first baby, without the aid of any modern painkillers. So she’s got to be physically exhausted. And here are all these strangers effectively coming uninvited to her rather uncomfortable room while she’s trying to figure out breastfeeding and how to take care of a newborn and maybe just maybe sleep for a couple of hours at a time. I certainly wouldn't have blamed her if she’d just told them to get the hell out of her hair unless they were prepared to do an overnight shift on diaper duty, foreign dignitary or not.
But, according to the story, she didn't. She “treasured up” all these moments that she knew were once-in-a-lifetime experiences, expressions of love for the child that she loved. To me, those moments were more valuable than any incense or gold. It doesn't matter whether the baby was divine or just doted upon, it’s a beautiful image: a loving mother recognizing that each moment that passed was precious and would slip through her fingers without safekeeping.
So many moments are worth being “treasured up.” In a world flooded with selfies and Tweets, it’s easy to think that deliberate memory-making isn't necessary. We can outsource the care of the moments that make up our lives. But I think we’re the poorer for it. For what is life other than a string of moments? Of emotional snapshots that we see through our own personal filters? Without deliberately treasuring up the good ones, and letting the not-so-good ones slip through our fingers like so many grains of sand, the time goes by but we end up with an empty – or worse, negative – emotional bank account.
Some of my treasured moments are “big moments”: moving my tassel from one side to the other after graduating from MIT; looking up while I was studying for my pilot license on the floor in his tiny living room when my now husband asked me to marry him; the look in the same man’s eyes as I joined him in front of our family and friends to say our vows; sharing a meal of fresh fish and laughter with good friends on a dock by the Aegean; celebrating the first round of funding for our start-up. Most of them are not. And while the milestone moments are well, just that, the road itself is paved with much more mundane things.
These simpler memories are what define the journey and make up the days which make up the weeks which turn into years and then into lifetimes. A belly laugh over impossible packing tape shared with my mother and grandmother while they were helping me move; my first Reuben sandwich with Grandpa at the corner deli when I was a kid; lazy Saturday mornings with pancakes and bacon made and eaten in PJ's; snow falling softly while a kettle comes to boil on the stove; walking our newly adopted dog in her bright red coat: these are the sort of snapshots that matter, that make life full and make us rich.
So this holiday season, instead of fighting traffic at the mall and treasuring up presents, I’m focused on treasuring up memories. There’s not room in the house for more stuff anyway. Baking cookies (and eating the frosting straight) with friends while the house smells like pine and ginger; strolling with my husband, sipping a latte, warm winter sun on our backs; sitting down to a lasagna dinner with family after months apart; taking the time to breathe the crisp air and savor magic of it all: these are the moments that can be revisited to overcome crowded subways and long airport security lines. These are the treasures that I will keep with me always.
May your holidays and everydays be filled with such treasures.