“Laugh it up, Fuzz Ball!”
Little sis Amanda delights in that line whenever she finds it relevant. It stems, of course, from the original Star Wars, when Han Solo admonishes his jeering Wookie friend. Born with Down syndrome, Amanda’s disability has no effect on her searing wit. In fact, she will often use it to her advantage, ambushing innocent bystanders with her slapstick one-liners. She would hold up two fingers behind our Dad’s head, and growl, “I am your father! You KNOW it to be TRUE…”
She loves movies. For years, before our parents died, she and I would head to the Soo, to the cinema as often as possible. In the summer we would go about once a week.
In 2013 following the death of our dad, Amanda moved to Arizona with her new guardian, our older brother, Ted. Among the other huge transitions in her life, DVDs replaced “Girls’ Day Out” in the theatre. Perhaps designed as some form of torture, but more likely due to her love for the franchise, her selection for home viewing is Star Wars. Over, and over, and over, Ted and his wife Ruthie were forced to watch Luke Skywalker’s coming-of-age story, and the battle for the galaxy.
I never considered myself the biggest Star Wars fan. But with the emergence of The Force Awakens in December 2015, my mind was on my sister more than ever. If only I could afford a flight to Arizona so we could see this one together. This would be the one! It would be a reunion with Han, Chewbacca, Amanda and me. What a Christmas this would be!
Unfortunately, for me, 2015 was the culmination of a string of several years’ worth of bad luck and bad decisions. I was not even close to recovering from the financial annihilation. There wasn’t going to be a flight out West. Most likely, in fact, there wouldn’t even be a Christmas. I would have to be satisfied with seeing the movie and hashing the story line out with Amanda over the phone.
And then, it happened. Sure enough, as I was scrolling through Facebook in the early morning after the film’s premier, there it was: the Plot Spoiler. Someone posted a pivotal plot line on their wall, for all to see. At first, I thought it was some kind of joke. “Hey,” I replied. “That’s not cool. You ought to delete that, unless you’re kidding. You don’t want to spoil the film for others.”
Her reply indicated that she didn’t think it was a big deal, after all it was only a movie. She refused to delete the post, despite the fact that others were now beginning to complain, too.
I felt my head pounding. I knew my level of anger was unreasonable. Yes, it was just a movie. But how could she be so thoughtless? I had looked forward to this event for months. From a storytelling perspective, what she had posted would be the equivalent of broadcasting after the opening night of The Empire Strikes Back: “Check it out – Darth Vader is actually Luke’s father!”
“Some of us don’t have money for gifts or decorations, or travel,” I told her. “We don’t get to celebrate a traditional Christmas. We go to the movies.”
It made no difference to her. People, I thought, were selfish. I found myself completely losing interest in going to the movie. The whole experience was ruined.
A couple of days later, I found out that a local store, Preuss Pets in Lansing, was hosting photos with Santa. Still searching for a glimmer of Christmas, I decided to take my horse, Clifford, in for pictures.
The epitome of affability, Clifford clip-clopped into the building, crowned with his Santa hat and dripping in tinsel. Walking down between the aisles of pet supplies, and floor-to-ceiling fish aquariums, we spotted Santa in the back of the store. “Hey, Santa, can we get a picture with you?” I hollered.
Santa seemed a little taken aback, but he agreed to the photo opp. In retrospect, I think he was afraid of horses. He had a couple of mini candy canes in his gloved right hand, and he was rolling them nervously between his fingers. Clifford noticed this immediately and stretched his neck out long, longer, longer, like an orange, tinsel-covered giraffe, rolling his eyes, baring his big yellow teeth, thumping his lips.
“You are going to have to put those away, or he’ll never stop mugging you,” I said. “He loves candy canes.”
Santa obligingly tucked the candy into his pocket, and we were able to get a couple of snaps. As I took the lead rope back from a relieved Santa, I noticed another lady coming down the aisle carrying a pet tote. “Whatcha got in there?”
“Prairie dog,” she said.
Santa cringed. “Poor guy,” I thought. “I bet after this he’ll go back to letting kids wet on him.”
We made our way toward the door. As usual, any time Clifford was out in public, we were swarmed. Kids and adults crowded all around, reaching out to touch him, to scratch him, to get close to him and connect. People asked for photos, holding his halter and smiling. He posed obligingly in his festive garb, both ears up, staring into an endless stream of cell phone cameras. He stood there with his hoofs planted on the tile floor, bobbing the tassel on his hat and soaking it all up with good humor.
It was impossible to be around him and not feel the warmth, not smile and laugh and feel good. Clifford, I thought, was the best panacea. Still, I was missing my sister terribly. How could I have a Star Wars Christmas without Amanda?
As we walked out of the store, the manager came out. “My boyfriend is coming with his daughter. They’re about ten minutes away. Can you wait?”
“Sure.” The weather was mild. Clifford was happy. We stood out in the parking lot by the business sign and a gushing fountain, greeting customers happily.
A man walked up to where I stood holding the lead rope. I was expecting the usual questions. “What’s his name? How old is he?”
Instead, he said, “I used to work with horses.”
I nodded. “Ah.”
I hear that a lot too; a call to someone’s personal history. They want to tell me their story. So I was prepared to listen. But he said nothing. Instead, he stepped over to Clifford and ran his hands knowingly up and down the horse’s neck. Finally, he looked up at me and I saw his face was glittering with running tears. “I had a bad accident. This is the first time in 20 years I have touched a horse.”
I drew in a sharp breath, but said nothing. Clifford stood quietly, eyes half closed. He did not offer to swing his head or play with this guy. He seemed to know. The man stood reverently with him and I let them commune for a bit. Finally, he bent his face close to Clifford’s, and blew gently into his nostril, that soft horse greeting; the signal that all is well.
Clifford just stood there and gracefully accepted the gesture. Suddenly, I understood the message, just as I have relearned the meaning of Christmas, over and over and over. The lady who had posted the spoiler was actually correct. It was only a movie. Christmas isn’t about gifts, or even about making a day momentous. Christmas is about the spirit of generosity, and most of all, the spirit of love.
It is important to shake off the small irritants, the narcissism that infests each day, and stay focused on the giving. At times, it can take an effort, even in some small way, to make the world a better place. But, as Harrison Ford once said in an interview, “The force is in you. Force yourself.”
I felt better about giving up on the movie. I decided I would just call and ask Amanda how it went.
“It was great!” she roared.
“What happened? Did Yoda show up? How about Obi-wan?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“You just have to see it!”
“Oh come on! Just one little hint!”
“But Manda! I already missed the opening day! I already learned the biggest thing that happens! The movie is ruined! It doesn’t matter any more.”
“You want some cheese to go with that whine?” she said.
Life can be unpredictable, but there are still those who will do the right thing. One has only to look around a little.
It’s going to be a great 2016.