Decorating our house for the Holidays has long been a staple of the post-Thanksgiving weekend for our family. Jessica and I have rarely had a year when we haven’t been involved in some kind of artistic production, be it a musical, choral performance, recital, a concert, or some other type of show. The Holiday Season has been a busy time preparing to help others make memories through the arts, and then putting on multiple performances, all the way through Christmas Eve at times. And we have now passed that passion for the arts on to our children, with a mix of excitement, pride, and resignation as we face who-knows-how-many more years of Holidays in the wonderful world of the performing arts.
When it comes to decorating for the Holidays, and getting into the Christmas spirit, the reality is that if it doesn’t happen Thanksgiving weekend, sometimes it doesn’t happen at all for our family. So we hype it up! We talk about it the whole week leading up to it, discussing decorating options, Christmas movie favorites, which cookies to bake, hot cocoa vs. eggnog, and more. After picking up the house, and then cooking up a grateful storm on Thanksgiving, we load up into our van and drive out to a Christmas tree farm for our annual tree-chopping tradition. To be honest, we don’t have the cleanest track record for this annual tradition, but it has happened more years than not and in a pinch, IKEA’s $20 trees were just as fun to select.
And rain or shine, we carefully select the perfect tree. It’s a lot of fun. Spending time together really kicks off the Holiday Season right. I feel closer to my family and it brings out some holiday excitement in each of us. The tree may have a different perspective on that. Actually, Lolie may too…
We strap the lucky tree to the roof of our van and sing Christmas songs, while one of our children plays the part of the Grinch – there’s always one who feels obligated to do so – usually complaining about being tired of Christmas music (it’s been half a day, my poor child), or just deciding that they don’t want music on at all (this part is typically reserved for 2-4 yr olds – though there may be exceptions). As I was saying, this year, we drive along, the only car on the road topped by a tree, happily (mostly) singing Christmas songs, talking about where to set it up in the house and who will help with what part of decorating it. We’re getting our Holiday Cheer on! It’s working!
And once we turn into our neighborhood, about 2 blocks away from our house, I spot a white minivan going in the other direction. Cars are parked on both sides of the street, making it necessary for one of us to pull over and let the other one pass. I assess that I’m in the best position to do so, so I scoot over and wait. About 15 feet ahead of us is a small construction-type truck (still 3 times bigger than our van), and it immediately shifts gears and starts backing up. I’m thinking the truck is either getting ready to leave and needs a little space in front of it, or it’s just readjusting how it’s parked. When it gets about 5-6 feet away I start to worry; it is showing no signs of slowing down. I put the car in reverse, but our older car takes a second to shift gears, and as it transitions I lay on the horn. It is inches away from ramming our car when I am able to give the car gas and we barely escape the collision as we lurch backwards.
The truck then suddenly stops and I am able to make eye contact with the driver. Meanwhile, the white minivan pulls up next to us, the driver’s side window sliding open in what I interpret to be a friendly gesture. I power my window open too, expecting a kind question of concern, when the driver lays into me, asking me if I’m really in that much of a hurry. I’m confused and say so: “Ma’am, I don’t understand.” She repeats her question. “I’m not sure what you mean,” I say, “but this truck almost rammed into us.” I don’t remember her reply, as I was distracted by the driver of the truck walking up to our car, and Jessica jumping in to defend me. The guy who almost crushed us then made a very clear and sincere apology, saying he didn’t see us there, he was so distracted by the car on the other side that was about to back out of their driveway that he didn’t even glance in his other side mirror.
The white minivan driver, still clearly upset, says that she hopes we have wonderful Holidays in such an angry tone that I’m not sure how to take it, especially as I just heard that we not only narrowly avoided a collision with the truck, but with the car that was trying to leave its driveway. I had no idea it was even there.
The truck driver was embarrassed but clearly a nice guy, and I think we were both just very grateful that no one got hurt. Except for my feelings. We eventually came to the conclusion that the lady in the white minivan must have understood that I was blowing my car horn at her to hurry up and she must have completely missed the part where we were about to be sat on by a large truck. But for a minute there, I felt like I understood what victim-blaming is like for the victim. I was about to be run over. I tried to defend myself by honking my horn, and trying to get out of the way, and I was the one who was accused of being a jerk. I know this is still a far-cry from the feelings that real victims face as their hurt is completely dismissed. Especially since the aggressor in my story ended up being a really nice guy, and I was never hurt. But in that moment, that small taste of injustice made the immense monstrosity of true victim-blaming very real to me; the oppressive injustice, and the feeling of entrapment.
Real stories of victim-blaming come to mind, like Rehtaeh Parsons, the teen who was raped and then humiliated by her oppressors by distributing images of her rape, and Eric Garner, prime example of excessive police brutality, who died from the use of an illegal choke hold earlier this year; the only words he could choke out as he was dying were “I can’t breathe,” over and over as he was held to the ground. For illegally selling single cigarettes. Sounds like he got the death penalty for a petty crime to me. My minor brush with victim-blaming puts stories like these in a vivid and stark light – their complete hopelessness and injustice far out-shadow mine – but it fuels my empathy, my anger, and my desire to make the world a better place.
In my own brush with victim blaming, as insignificant and incomparable as it was, my body was both weak and electric, probably the after-effects of an adrenaline rush. Nothing a few hugs and supportive conversation with Jessica could’t fix. We determined that the white minivan driver must have been pissed because we ruined her Holiday spirit by impatiently honking our car horn at her, completely oblivious of our imminent peril and our own Holiday spirit. I probably would have agreed with her sentiment, had it not been completely misplaced. People shouldn’t trample all over other people in their own rush and stress at any time of the year. But it carries with it a sense of deep irony when they do so in a season that is supposedly defined by a spirit of giving, an outward-, other-person-focused season, especially when they are doing Holiday-related activities.
The end of the story for our family is that we survived the run-in with our neighborhood self-righteous Grinch, and so did our Holiday spirit. And our beautiful Christmas tree serves as a reminder of how we need to look out for each other and those around us, even as we rush around to rehearsals, performances, parties, and all kinds of other Holiday related activities.