Holiday formletters: So much living, so little time

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Many people cringe over the holiday formletters that inundate mailboxes during December and early January. A good number, in fact, begin with an apology for sending such a quasi-personal missive. The rest begin with the line, "It's hard to believe Christmas/December is here already."

As we get older, every year seems to go faster, and even though many of us only correspond once a year, when we receive the holiday formletter, it seems like only yesterday since we got the last one.

Admittedly, they tend to be "brag sheets." Since envy is one of the chief poisons souring our dispositions, reading brag sheets when you're already mildly depressed about the holidays (if you are) can be a trial.

But the writers may simply be "spinning" their lives to overcome their own bouts of holiday depression. I prefer to think that all the self-centered swine who just want to brag about their materialism and their golden children are sending their formletters to someone else. My friends, of course, are better than that.

But maybe because they're my friends, I'm a forgiving reader and actually enjoy the updates. If nothing else, they provide a fascinating glimpse of the amazing array of things people do with their lives.

One of my friends in California, for instance, fulfilled a fantasy and volunteered to help decorate one of the floats for the Rose Bowl Parade. She worked from the day after Christmas to New Year's Eve, gluing seeds and bark onto turkey feathers for the City of St. Louis float. Said it was great fun. I'll take her word for that.

One of my friends in Colorado recently retired, allowing him to "pursue his love of gardening and landscaping, continue to refine his Tai Chi and, of course, travel." He and his wife, who has "a passion for beads," attended a Sufi dance camp in Hawaii, went "llama-packing" in the San Juan mountains of southwest Colorado, and visited the woman on the Navaho reservation who wove the traditional rug they have in their home. The husband spent three weeks in Kazakstan assessing water development projects funded by the U.S., and two weeks tracing "the Silk Road into far western China." The wife visited Kenya to help women who are involved in agriculture (she's the director of International Education at Colorado State University).

The husband, by the way, after studying some Chinese history during his trip there, concludes that "Our American dynasty of 200+ years is in decay and decline and under assault, in part due to ill-advised military adventurism, hubris, technology exceeding our ethics, and losing our edge by succumbing to the good life of materialism. It seems to be a predictable pattern which can't be changed." A pretty succinct summary, I thought, albeit a bit of a downer during the holidays.

And then there's my retired friend who, in addition to playing Santa in Downtown Oak Park every December, works part time in the reference section of the Maywood Public Library; teaches film classes for Facets Multimedia and the Oak Park Art League; hosts a film series at the Oak Park Public Library; wrote history books about Oak Park, Maywood, and, soon, one for Berwyn; and, in October, dressed up like Adolph Luetgert, the "sausage vat murderer" and stood by his grave in Forest Home Cemetery telling history tour buffs all about it during the Historical Society's cemetery walk.

And this is the guy who says, earlier in his letter, "I frankly don't know how our kids keep all their many plates in the air." Maybe they take after dad.

I won't even go into what all of the children of these people are doing. It would just make you despair.

Although I envy some of my friends' adventurism, it's reassuring each December to be reminded that there's still so much living left to do.

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