Who Do You Want to Be? (M.E.M.O.)

Article excerpt

WHERE IS SOME Christmas--New Year nostalgia with, I hope, a point. Scene One: A Christmas Eve in 1934 or 1935, a drought, dust-bowl, Depression year in Nebraska. Lutheran parochial schoolchildren are presenting the Christmas Eve service to a jammed congregation. This service was a cosmic event at our house, since father was an organist-choirmaster-teacher who brought to his work piety, perfectionism and contagious enthusiasm.

Though the children's thoughts were supposed to be only on the manger, mine wandered. As others marched forward to sing, speak or act, I found myself comparing our family's Christmas with that of others--not out of envy or pride, but out of curiosity. My mind stopped at each child in the rows: would any of them have a better Christmas than we did at our house? I knew that some would have more presents under the tree. But would I trade our tree, our living room, our presents, our songs and family rituals for any of theirs? If other idle minds were similarly distracted, I hope that each was thinking about his or her circumstance as I was about ours.

Offer me Christmas at Buckingham Palace or J. P. Morgan's mansion or the Taj Mahal or Macy's, and I would have chosen to celebrate at home. The lesson I learned then was that whatever our external circumstances, most of us would rather be ourselves taking on our own lives than be transported into someone else's consciousness, role, place and circumstances.

Scene Two: our house on New Year's Eves of old, or yours if you want to play the game. The game is that each person has to say who, among the living, she or he would rather be than herself or himself. The stricture: you cannot be yourself. You have to be someone else. And remember, you don't get only the brains and beauty, the talent and treasure, of that chosen other. …