I’m staring at a picture frame. It is wooden and cheap, painted matte black and leaned awkwardly against one of my desk lamps. The picture in it is skewed like its left side is falling down, and the white edges of the paper touch the side of the frame in two places. The photo is really one made of four: it’s from one of those photo booths they always seem to have at the mall or at the county fair in lake October. I remember looking at the equipment from the outside and finding it funny that a printer and a computer were hidden behind a small black curtain. I could see some of the recently taken pictures and see the expressions of the people in them. They showed grins and open gapes and manufactured looks of fear or surprise, and some showed simple smiles that seemed to be directed at me, radiant.

There was a box on the corner of the booth’s seat that had a mishmash of random accessories and goofy decorations that looked like they had been plucked from a costume shop. A weird little top hat made of purple and gold and green glitter was in there. I placed it on my head and pulled my girlfriend in, and we sat down to wait.


We took four pictures, four corners of this photograph that I’m looking at once again. Smiles as we look away from the camera, accidentally forgetting where we should look. A mouth agape, pointing at the found-again lens poking through the wall in front of us. I am holding a balloon shaped and decorated like a microphone. Smiles, beaming, teeth white. She smiles even harder as she holds a clenched hand to her chest. I hold on. Expressions of joy leap at me. Even now, you can feel that energy, happiness.

I’m going home for Christmas. I’m lucky to be one of the few that can leave by Friday.

One of the things we overemphasize during holidays, especially those of us that celebrate Christmas, is the importance of things. It’s weird that we build a whole culture around a holiday that glorifies the transaction of things.

Toys. Gadgets. Clothes and kitchenware.

“What should we get you for Christmas?”

“What should Santa deliver?”

“What do you want?”

Want. It’s a powerful idea that we’re supposed to want things. Even though most of what we receive we’ll never use or fully appreciate. In most cases, the addition of that object may even be detrimental. More physical clutter means the thinning of attention (which is already pretty damn thin). Our lives gets worse with more things, not better.

It’s important to not limit our definition of what we want. I don’t want things.

I want time. I want the ability to sit down and cook a meal for my family and my girlfriend, to smell the pot of bone marrow stew wafting through the kitchen. I want to make things for them, to show that even though I am so far away, I am still close. That I care, and will keep caring. I want to feel happy with the people I love.

Those moments, I think, are the greatest gift I could ask for.