So, I’m driving my 7-year-old to school. Suddenly, it’s time for Profound Observations From Joseph. It erupts, without segue, from the back seat.
You never know when this is going to happen. I’m pretty sure Joseph never knows, either. When you’re 7, there’s not a lot of decorum going on, let alone calculation. I think your brain just begins blinking like an emergency action message on a submarine, except you don’t have to authenticate it. You tear the message off the spindle and read it. It’s really that simple.
“Papa, you know what’s really surprising about Santa?”
The question itself reminds me he’ll turn 8 in January. I’m thinking this is his last “Santa” Christmas. If he doesn’t soon figure the myth out for himself, some little cretin classmate will gleefully disillusion him on the school playground.
“No, what’s surprising about Santa?”
“Well, at Christmas, Santa brings you some of the things you ask for, but not all of the things you ask for. And then, he brings you things you didn’t ask for. And they are good, but they are a surprise.”
And, just like that, the boy returns his attention to the “Star Wars” action figures fighting the battle of good and evil in my back seat. He has done his job. He reports the profundity, and leaves his father to ponder it.
“Just like life, boy,” I think to myself.
Life and loved ones bring us some of the things we ask for. And it’s good to ask. How many times I find myself reminding and encouraging family members and friends and lovers to ask for what they want. Speak up. Words would be good here. You can’t live your life encrypting your wants and needs into moods, body language and passive (or passive aggressive) behaviors, and then daring those who love you to figure it out. If that’s how you want it, then limit your social circles to psychics.
“But I shouldn’t have to ask,” people will whine. And that’s a dodge, pure and simple. They try to cache the issue as a failing of the other’s initiative. Even a lacking in the other’s quality of love. See, that’s easier than the nakedness of risk. The leap of emotional honesty. The acknowledgment of need.
I’m not saying it’s easy. If you take the risk of asking, the answer might be “no.” Worse, you might get a “yes,” and then your request will be nonetheless forgotten. Worse still, your needs might be dismissed, ignored, or, in some cases, disdained. Your loved one might get agitated and angry that you dared to ask at all. Dared to have an expectation. And that will hurt.
I’m not saying it’s easy. Just that it’s required of people who want to thrive in important relationships. Or thrive in life. We have to ask.
In serious spirituality, prayer is a form of asking.
But life and loved ones don’t bring us everything we ask for. Sometimes it’s a matter of limits. No one person can supply all we ask. And sometimes we ask too much.
Other times our loved one says “no.” Which is good. Because not everything we ask for is what we need. Some of what we ask for isn’t even in our best interest, or the best interest of our relationships. If we’re going to thrive in life and in important relationships, we have to be able to hear the “no” from people who love us.
It’s important to dream great dreams, even the ones that don’t come true. Even knowing ahead of time that some or most of those dreams won’t come true. Because the courage to dream all we dream leads us to our own lives. It leads us to dreams we didn’t know how to dream. Didn’t think we could dare to dream.
Which leads us to Joseph’s last observation about Santa: Under the tree are things you didn’t ask for. And they are good. But they are a surprise.
Ah, yes. Joseph is right. So many of the most beautiful things in my life I never asked for. I didn’t know to ask, or sometimes how to ask, or that it was permissible to ask. The beautiful things just showed up. Barged in. Suddenly, they were there.
For me, Santa is the name of a force in the universe waaaayyy smarter than me, desiring a happiness for me that I am unable to imagine, let alone ask for.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling Wellness Center in Las Vegas and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.