As Christmas approaches, my mind turns to a song I sang with my High School choir many years ago, “My Grown-Up Christmas List” (written by Linda Thompson-Jenner and David Foster). The chorus goes like this:
No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
Everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown-up Christmas list
This song always bothered me a little. These wishes seemed too big for anyone to fill, not unlike a three-year-old who asks for a helicopter for Christmas. This made it seem too wishful to me, like wishing for because it seemed like a list of the components of “world peace;” things everyone wants to happen someday, but no one feels personally responsible for helping bring about in their own lives.
But I may have just found the key that will help each of us start to unlock this Christmas list this year.
I called a dear friend and her husband answered the phone. Not an uncommon occurrence. But there was something about my brief exchange with him that impressed my mind and heart, though I couldn’t place why until later:
It was how he said her name.
This couple has been married now for at least fifteen years. Long past the “newlywed stage,” it wasn’t infatuation or even awe that I heard. It wasn’t something he had rehearsed ahead of time, or a guise he put on for people he wanted to impress. It flowed from him as naturally as breathing.
How can I describe it?
Imagine the tone of wonder in a child’s voice when he asks his mother about where flowers come from, or why the sky is blue, and the excitement you can hear when he identifies a shape in the clouds on his own for the first time.
Imagine how a teenager handles a precious heirloom as she listens to a grandparent tell her about what it is and what it means to them. Now imagine the look on her face when she’s told she may keep that precious thing as long as she’s prepared to keep it special and safe.
Remember the way you feel when you return home for a special occasion and are greeted by all the sights, smells, and people you remember, love, and count on.
Remember the way you felt last time a child saw you and immediately smiled and ran to you for a hug.
I felt all of those things when he said her name. It wasn’t a word, or even a name, to him. It was the most beautiful sound, and she the most beautiful woman, in the world.
My father married the most beautiful woman in the world, too. He taught me respect for women by respecting her.
I remember once Dad was relaxing at the kitchen table after a meal. Mom walked by his chair, busy with something, and he reached out and scooped her onto his lap. She squealed in surprise and sat down. As she looked at him with laughter in her eyes, and he held her close and snuggled his face into her, no words were necessary for me to understand what was happening. I decided in that moment that I would marry a man who would treat me like that – who loved me like that.
I watched and dated and waited until I found him. Years later, my name still never sounds more beautiful, less common and boring, and more precious than it does when my husband says it.
My experience calling my friend reminded me that I could do better for him.
The Holiday season is upon us, along with all of the mind-bending list-building and tradition-fulfilling that generally follows. Let’s not let the stress crowd out the effort we put into how we talk to, and about, the people who mean the most to us.
My grown-up Christmas list this year is that everyone who isn't married will search until they find a spouse like my friend's and that all of us, married or single, will work to become more like that ourselves. If we all do our part, we may live to see world peace after all.