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Slowing down

Posted Thursday, December 22, 2011, at 9:50 PM

Last Christmas Eve, my friend Bryan and I tucked ourselves into a pew near an elegant Nativity scene, as hundreds of people clad in red and green filed in the seats around us. The midnight ceremony began with a deep, booming voice proclaiming the lineage of Christ. Brilliant poinsettias lined the alter, as the archbishop processed in behind a rendering of the Christ child. For Bryan, this elaborate display at the St. Louis Basilica ignited a Christmas spirit, and in a way, he was right. I won't deny the Christmássy feeling.

But he hadn't seen Christmas like I had earlier that afternoon.

Mere hours before, I'd attended Christmas Eve mass with my mother. We shuffled through the doors of St. Bernadette's Catholic Church, a quaint parish on Jefferson Barracks Military Post near my parents' home in South St. Louis County. As expected, ten minutes before Christmas Eve mass, an overflowing congregation filled the church. With no room to sit or stand, Father let a handful of us sit in the abandoned choir loft.

I witnessed two different kinds of spirit that Christmas. At the Basilica, I saw the glory of the holiday exemplified with elaborate decorations, detailed ceremony and symbolism. But at St. Bernadette's, I saw a humanistic kind of beauty, as my mother and I joined an intimate crowd in that dusty choir loft.

Above the congregation, we formed our own little community. One man cleared off a bench for an elderly woman, and a child peered over the edge, eager to see the Christ child in the manger.

As a Mizzou senior, my Christmas holidays were stifled by winter finals and last-minute, online Christmas shopping. When the holidays become systematic, sometimes, the meaning behind them can too. While sitting in that loft, I felt a holiday magic I hadn't known since the days of waiting for Santa and pasting paper Marys and Josephs to cardboard stables.

My mother says there's beauty in simplicity. While her words of wisdom rarely penetrate my own ego, sometimes, I slow down enough to listen to her.

There's a certain appeal to city life, but I cannot deny a pleasant, humbleness to my new rural Missouri home--even if I occasionally overlook it. As a former suburbanite, sometimes small-town charm overwhelms me.

When I complain in the office about the town keeping tabs on everything from my out-of-town visitors ("who was the nice looking boy with the black hair?") to my hair cut ("I saw you walk to the courthouse today, your new haircut looks fantastic"), my small-town tutor/mentor/friend/confidant/co-worker/sympathizer/The Marshall Democrat-News Agriculture Reporter Marcia Gorrell reminds me of the advantages of city-less living.

"People here help each other," she often tells me. As someone who moved to Marshall after growing up in suburbia, just like I did, she eagerly helps me find peace with my decision to leave home and move to rural Missouri. She, like my mother, sees the beauty in the small things.

Sometimes as a 20-something, I have trouble seeing it.

But just like I witnessed the Christmas spirit that day above the congregation at St. Bernadette's, I found it here in Marshall during the first snow of the year.

Furious at the unplowed roads and the lack of salt thrown on my street, I left my house that morning in a wintery rage. With one swift turn, driving exactly how my father taught me not to, my car flung out and my wheels spun rapidly before halting on the side of the road.

I stood beside my car and stomped angrily in the unplowed snow. I pulled out my cell phone, hoping someone at the office could help me pull my car out of this mess.

This mess, that surely never would have happened on properly salted city streets.

But before I could dial the number, a truck pulled up next to my little mishap. With extreme kindness and utter patience, two strangers helped push me out of the ditch, as Marcia's refrain played in my head. "People here help each other." Back home, the first passing city car never would have stopped for me. Also, had my car pirouetted across a busy street, I would have smashed into much more than a curb.

Before I drove off, one of the strangers kindly suggested I "slow down."

The young man probably meant I should stop driving like a teenager, or that I should avoid frantically stringing my words together.

Perhaps though, I needed a seasonal reminder.

I have a new dent near the front driver's-side wheel of my car -- A constant, bleeding reminder of a poor situation turned into something almost endearing.

The more I think about it, the more that ugly ding in my car looks more Christmássy to me than the ding-dong of a hundred Basilica church bells.

This Christmas, whether you're at work or home, a Basilica or a dining room, a city or a town, a large family gathering or alone with your dog, I urge you to slow down and find the beauty of the season.

Merry Christmas.


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Merry Christmas Maggie.

-- Posted by the view from the square on Fri, Dec 23, 2011, at 11:44 AM


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Maggie Menderski graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri in May 2011. The St. Louis native began working as a staff writer for the Democrat-News shortly after. In her Out of Ink blog, she (typically) muses about the differences between rural and suburban life.
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