Daughter Jessica came home a couple of weeks ago, just in time to help us set up the live, or, rather, freshly cut Christmas tree she'd demanded as one of the conditions she'd imposed (jokingly, we hoped) for spending the holidays with her parents, instead of some Washington, D.C., ecologically careless soul who sported a live, or, rather, recently live tree.
"You know," I'd tried to convince her a few years ago, "they make some very attractive aluminum trees these days, and if you like the fresh, Christmasy smell of a recently cut-down Douglas fir, they've got that in a spray can at Wal-Mart."
"Dad, if you and Mom ever decide to go with a fake Christmas tree, just let me know and I'll spend the holiday with someone who knows how to keep an ancient and meaningful tradition in his or her heart." I never thought I'd hear a daughter of mine opt for tradition simply for its own sake. And with the even more egregious result of killing a once-living and carefree young tree, with all its life before it. I was a little shocked.
"Honey," I pleaded, "you're sacrificing a living thing for your own satisfaction for a single day. Think of what happens to that tree the day after Christmas! First, everyone in the house forgets to keep the metal base full of water, so the tree not only gets slashed from its roots, it also gets parched as an added insult. Moreover, our cats'll by that time forget to honor and respect the poor thing. They'll bat the ornaments off it, drink what's left of the water out of the metal base. Who knows, one of them may decide to pee on it! Baby, why can't you just let it live peacefully in its forest home?"
"Dad," she replied, "the tree's already been cut down, dumped dying on a flatbed truck, driven halfway across the country, shivering, to a local grocery store, and left leaning against a wall until some good Samaritan comes along, takes pity on it, buys it, and rushes it home to set in a metal stand filled with water. On Christmas morning, we all gather round the tree, praise its festive appearance, and spend the rest of the day in its glittery warmth. I believe in cutting your own Christmas tree."
Later in the day, I asked Jessica if she'd let me see her latest batch of color photos from her recent trip to monitor elections in the former Soviet Krygyztan. When I slid them from their Wal-Mart paper bags, I was stunned. She'd started shooting pictures about 20 years ago, with a camera I think had been my old Zeiss Symbolica, which I'd bought in Germany in 1959. The product of her early efforts had seemed to me pretty hit-or-miss: some out of focus, some seriously sun-struck, some centered around subjects of dubious importance: a newspaper floating wrinkled in a gutter; a dull green street sign; a mottled grey dog of indeterminate breed tied loosely to a fire plug.
These new ones, however, were stunners. She'd obviously developed an eye for the dramatic and colorful. Granted, the houses themselves were already painted in colors bright and flashy enough to remind me of the brightly painted buildings sprinkled about Greenwich Village in lower New York. In any event, my daughter's photos were lovely, able to cop first place in any contest.
Why was I feeling a tad jealous of my own daughter for her photographic good fortune? Shame on me! Besides, her good luck came from a new, improved camera, not because she was basically more adroit with a camera than I.
Just forget the whole sorry episode.
But then I remembered my own experience in Europe, in the summer of 1959. My father was a serious amateur photographer, who'd begun taking pictures back in the 1930's, when the amateur photographer had to do all the work himself, measuring light, distance, that the newer cameras automatically do for you. He knew I was a beginner, and urged me to buy a Zeiss Ikon Symbolica, because he'd already done the research on it, and was satisfied it would suit me. In Sturgart, if I remember correctly, I bought the camera, and then, with my first roll of film in the camera, I left the shop and wandered around until I came to the port and found a group of brightly dressed young men loading and unloading a ship. I began snapping photos the way I'd seen it done in the movies, fast and furious. I must've shot three whole rolls of activity on the dock and in the ship. I quickly took all of them to a local Kodak shop for developing and printing. I believe this was in the days before a large machine made all the decisions about the printing process. The next day, I hustled into the shop and paid for my pictures. I waited until I'd returned to my hotel to open the bag. And when I did, what a jolt of happiness passed through my whole being. The pictures were magnificent, colorful, action-packed (although the figures were static, they looked alive and active), plentifully detailed. I'd somehow stumbled into photographic competence.
When I got home to New York, I immediately set up the screen and prepared to show my parents my slides, hoping the show would justify their paying good money for my Zeiss. When the first few slides, of the young men unloading the ship, appeared, I myself was impressed! My mother marvelled at my handiwork, but my father just stared, transfixed, at the screen, saying nothing. But I thought I knew what was passing through his mind. He must've thought, "how did he, my rank amateur son, shoot such great pictures? They're professional grade, and I, with my long experience, expertise, and expensive equipment, could never get pictures like these. It's not fair!"
Jealousy can strike anyone at any time. But trust me: It takes just a bit of sober reasoning with yourself to break the foolish and selfish hold your ego has on you.
After all, you don't want to end up being jealous of your loved ones.