Wednesday, March 6, 2024
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Like Christmas tree salesmen, we can all offer something evergreen

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Like a tree salesman,  every job, every person who is alive in the world—has the chance to offer happiness to people, in how we speak, how we act, how we treat each other. Photo: Supplied
Like a tree salesman, every job, every person who is alive in the world—has the chance to offer happiness to people, in how we speak, how we act, how we treat each other. Photo: Supplied

On the way to school this morning, I heard an interview with a Canadian man who travels to New York City every December to sell Christmas trees. Every year, he fights to win a corner spot, and he builds himself a little insulated shack to live in for a month; and then he sells his trees.

He hinted that he witnesses some pretty rough things on the sidewalks of the city, and the whole thing sounds pretty gruelling; but he spoke about the whole endeavour like it was mainly an adventure, or a personal challenge, like an extreme marathon, or a wilderness survival test. But the part that really struck me was when he said, in his charming Quebecois accent, “There’s a privilege of bringing happiness to homes.”

“It’s just joy. There’s few jobs where you actually bring happiness to people. And I worked in the Bronx and I worked in Manhattan, which are two different experiences. But most of the time, the answer is the same. Like people are happy you come with the Christmas trees. You’re kind of mythical, folkloric creatures, like Christmas elf bringing them like holidays, which is super fun, super fun.”

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At first I thought, “Wow, he really is lucky. What a cool thing, to be able to be the guy that everyone’s glad to see.” Because it’s true: You are sort of predisposed to feel friendly toward the person who sells you a Christmas tree. It’s not a normal, everyday transaction, and even if you’re rushed, or annoyed at the price, or frustrated by the logistics involved, it’s a special and cheering thing to come into possession of a fresh, fragrant, scratchy, rustling, deep green tree, and to have someone hand that over to you.

Every day, we buy milk and toilet paper and office supplies, and we pay our bills, and drop off parking fines, and have countless dreary, joyless transactions with people we don’t think twice about; but it’s probably only once a year we come home with our arms full of evergreen. And that’s what he’s a part of, all day, for a month every year. A lucky man!

I thought of all the people who spend 40 hours or more doing the opposite kind of job, giving people things that nobody wants. The prison guard. The teacher who teaches a required class that everybody hates. The repo man who comes around to take away the car you can’t afford anymore. The oncologist who has to tell you, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing more we can do.” Or even just the parking inspector who leaves a ticket under your windshield, or the customer service rep who has the bad luck of catching your call when you’ve already been treated poorly by the previous four reps, and now you’re good and mad. What unlucky people!

I thought of my own job, which is and always has been a mixed bag of pleasant and awful, easy and hard. It’s easier than it used to be in many ways, and it’s harder in a few ways, these days. What do I do these days? I take care of children and manage the household. I cook, and I clean, and I schedule, and I drive. I write for magazines and websites, and I more or less choose what I get to write about, and how. I feed the dog. I feed the ducks. I cover and uncover the bird. I pull the cat off my keyboard and toss him lightly on the couch, or maybe less lightly on the floor, if he trampled all over the essay I was writing.

Later today, I’ll probably talk to a pharmacist and ask again whether my migraine injections have arrived yet (probably not); and I’ll probably talk to at least one cashier and bagger and maybe a clerk of some kind. I’ll check my bank balance, and second guess everything we’ve spent money on this week, and anxiously check the mail. I’ll check out my comboxes and my Twitter replies and see who needs to be thanked for their support, who needs to be ignored, and who needs to be sent to inbox gehenna for their unrepented online sins. I’ll pick up the kids from school and moderate maybe half a dozen little skirmishes between siblings on the way home, and I’ll deal with expectations and misunderstandings and defiance and badly articulated needs. I will comfort, counsel, laugh, chide, and navigate a thousand human interactions, which is the main thing I do every day.

I am lucky. I know that. But I also make my own luck. The adventure of my life is a combination of things I have chosen to take on, and things that have been thrust on me against my will. But either way, I still have a choice about how to approach it, and how to approach the people I will meet.

Every morning I wake up and, if I’ve had enough sleep to have the wherewithal to realise it, I remember that it is a new day, a day I did not make but one which has been given to me by God, and I have choices. Choices to wake up cranky kids and to be angry and give it right back to them, or to wake up cranky kids and be the adult who can rise above it and act more cheerful than I feel. Choices to hear everyone’s words and see everyone’s actions in the worst possible light, or to look for the best possible spin and build on that. Choices to say, when I inevitably do stray from my good intentions, “I’m sorry, that’s really not the tone I meant to take. Can I try that again?” and then try it again.

These are choices almost everybody has. The choice to offer something green and fragrant and good, something that people might want, even if they’re rushed and overwhelmed and cranky; or the choice to say, “Here, take this” and shove an armful of scratchy branches in their face.

Everyone has a different level of goodness they can bring to the day. Some people aren’t up for an adventure, chosen or otherwise, and truly the best they can do is not deliberately make things worse. Some people are holding on by a thread themselves, and it’s too much to ask for them to make an effort to bring joy to others. I’ve been there. But I’m not there now, and lots of other people aren’t, either. Lots of us are in a position to make a little effort, if we remember that we can.

The tree man said, “There’s a privilege of bringing happiness to homes. It’s just joy. There’s few jobs where you actually bring happiness to people.” And he’s right, there’s few jobs where the happiness that results is assured or likely to arise. But every job—every job, every person who is alive in the world—has the chance to offer happiness to people, in how we speak, how we act, how we treat each other. We can show up and offer the chance to make it a happy encounter. An armful of evergreen, rather than a load of thorns. How they respond is up to them. But what I offer is up to me.

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