Finding the lightness of this day

Shoppers at a Best Buy in Illinois.
Shoppers at a Best Buy in Illinois. AP

This column was published on Dec. 25, 2005:

Betsy wants a new bike this morning for Christmas.

Her friends are all getting bikes.

She isn't picky about what kind, or what color. But she's a little nervous about getting on it.

Betsy is 38 years old.

"I've never ridden a bike," she says.

When was the last time you felt truly young on Christmas? Maybe it was getting that drum set you'd begged for at age 16. Or the puppy that slid across the floor into your 12-year-old arms.

When was the last time your heart drummed at the possibilities this morning presented? Certainly, as adults, we come to appreciate different things about the season - that giving brings a deeper warmth than getting, and that there are things more spiritual than tugging at a freshly tied ribbon. But we too often cede the holiday's wonder to our children - and keep the holiday weariness, the anxiety, for ourselves.

Then there is Betsy and her bike.

She is a business professional, a cabinet designer in University City. She says there's no big reason she hasn't ridden a bicycle. Her brothers had bikes when she grew up in Winston-Salem. She rode a Big Wheel or other three-wheelers instead.

She'd never thought much about her deficiency - until earlier this year, when she learned some married friends were getting each other bikes for Christmas.

Then she found out her boyfriend Todd's sister also was getting one.

"I want a bike," she thought.

She and Todd made plans. He would give her a bike on Christmas morning, and that day he would teach her to ride. Betsy was nervous; she searched the Internet for training wheels that would fit on an adult bike. She found helmets and knee pads, but no balancing aids. That would be up to her.

She was thrilled, anyway. And why not? Each holiday season, we protest to loved ones that we need nothing that we don't already have. That's true, of course, because most anything we want is just a purchase away - or something we couldn't possibly afford, anyway.

But gift-giving isn't just about replenishing inventories, and the best presents aren't always the most useful. They're also the ones that satisfy silly longings, or untried adventures, the ones that remind us we should always save room in our lives for something new.

And what of Betsy's adventure? Earlier this month, Todd told her he'd changed his mind about the bike. "I was really bummed," Betsy says. Todd might get one for her later, maybe this spring on her birthday. Or maybe he is just being a guy, setting up a Christmas morning surprise. He isn't saying.

Says Betsy: "I'd be really excited." Not at a gift next to the Christmas tree. But at the wonder of small worlds unopened.

Email: pstonge