It was a holiday miracle of sorts.
Every year we spend Christmas with my husband's side of the family. There are 16 of us, and for the most part this is the only time we see each other all year. The grandchildren are nearly all adults now, and the "kids" are all, except for one, eligible for AARP cards. What used to be an avalanche of noisy, crazy toy-heavy gift opening has become a much more low-key exchange of clothes, gift cards, and the occasional pair of funny socks. It's going to be a while before the pitter-patter of the next generation's sweet little baby feet arrive, but that's ok.
Life goes speeding by us.
Though there's a part of me -- of all of us, I'm sure -- that misses the little children in their matching outfits sent by my mother-in-law each year, I very much enjoy the adults that my kids and my nieces and nephews have grown up to become. I have conversations about books with my niece who works in publishing, about theater with my niece who is studying to be a director. My brilliant nephew who builds computers for fun tries to explain programming and computer language to me, but I still don't understand what he's talking about. I listen to the cousins talk about their jobs, their lives, and I think we've all done a pretty good job of raising these kids.
Who are not kids anymore.
This year we went to San Francisco to celebrate Christmas at my husband's brother's house, then headed out later on Christmas day for three days in Napa Valley, where we had plans to eat a lot and go wine tasting. My husband and our two grown kids and I got in our car and drove off. Then we reached a toll booth.
The line we were in at the toll booth was not moving -- which, unfortunately, had happened to us the night before, too. I understand that for some travelers, toll booths can be a surprise, but two times at a standstill in 24 hours was a bit much, so my husband decided to merge into the lane next to us, which was moving quickly.
That's when our lovely Christmas day got a little bit Scroogey.
The man in the car behind us was not happy that we had edged in front of him to change lanes. In fact, he was so not happy that he started yelling at us (we couldn't hear him, but still...) and giving us nasty looks, making it crystal clear that what we had done was NOT ok with him.
In a world of random acts of violence and people losing control, these kinds of things make me nervous.
Remember, this was Christmas day. Good cheer to the world and all that.
Then my son said something great.
"Let's pay his toll."
Well. I loved this idea. I loved it so much that I couldn't wait to get to the tollbooth and hand over that additional $5 to the attendant. I couldn't wait to drive away and know that the cranky, nasty man in his very expensive car was going to feel the true meaning of the holiday spirit, whether he liked it or not, and all because my son had suggested it.
As we drove away from the toll booth, we were all laughing and smiling. It felt so good to do exactly the right thing -- to make amends for having nosed our way in front of the other driver, but also to show him forgiveness and kindness when he probably least expected it.
Sure enough, a few minutes later he pulled up in his expensive car next to our inexpensive rental, looked over at us, smiled and gave us a thumbs up. He got it.
In that moment, in that car on a freeway in San Francisco, on our way to wine country, the four of us snug and safe and together, all felt right with the world.
Previously published on Empty House Full Mind