Here it is Christmas Eve and I'm wanting to share something with you. Joe and I really aren't about things and stuff although we have many things and lots of stuff. But one of the things that I truly love we only see for a few weeks a year. I'd like to take you on a tour through the branches and give you a glimpse of our life.
This probably looks like an ordinary Christmas tree to you, but a picture can fool you. What you see before you is a history of my relationship with Joe. We do not take photographs (thus all these pictures have the distinct air of amateurs) and thus we do not have an real chronicle of our life and our travels, well except for this tree.
It sort of started with this ornament. It was given to us by our adopted dad, Ron Shearer. Many remember Ron's partner, George Hislop, but for those of us lucky to have been part of the lives of these two men - Ronnie was a powerful force in and of himself. He worked for a Christmas Decorations company and sometimes brought us copies of ornaments that were attempted but not then adopted for use. The blue ornament in this picture was one of those. We have many such Ron ornaments. Other people, over the years, have given us ornaments. So we look at the tree and see our journey and our friendships.
Then we went to Boston, back when we were boys, and I had just begun to work with Behaviour Management Services as a consultant. We were there for a TASH conference, Joe came along and we snuck away to do Boston things and see Boston sights. This was the first big conference I ever attended and I couldn't get over having someone pay for my flights and hotel room - for someone to pay for me to attend sessions and learn stuff. I was awestruck. I never dreamed I'd speak at a conference or even, years later, keynote this very conference. But, one evening, we were going through shops on a small side street. Snow had fallen and Boston looked beautiful. One of the shops had a beautiful ornament that we both fell in love with. It cost $30.00 which was an outrageous amount of money. But we decided that it would be a good souviener of our trip and the conference. We did not yet know that the beginnings of a tradition was being borne.
I was invited to come down to New York state to speak at a conference. I was a brand new speaker breaking onto the scene. We drove through a town called Elmira and stopped for lunch. As I'm a dedicated shopper when I saw a small gifty style store I wanted to go in. But it was Joe who discovered the Teddy Bear lights. He loved them and bought them for our tree. Over the years he's picked up vegetable lights, cow lights, Betty Boop lights, fruit lights - and the tree is covered in both ornaments that hang and ornaments that glow. He can tell you each place he's found the lights and is proud of every string.
Going to Acoma was one of the high points in my life. I had been there once, alone, and wanted to take Joe there to see this incredible place not far outside of Albuqurque. Acoma is the site of one of my big lecture stories and is a place of incredibly fond memory. Sitting on a mesa overlooking desert on all sides, Acoma is the longest ongoing inhabited settlement in the United States. As we wandered through an artisan was sitting painting tree ornaments. I stopped and spoke to her. Even though she typically didn't sell from her home she saw how much I loved her work and she let me buy it from her there. By now our tradition of buying a Christmas ornament in every city or town we went to was firmly established. Even so, this one from Acoma is particularly special.
This star has huge significance to me. It was the first that I bought after becoming a wheelchair user. I was terrified that, now in a wheelchair, my entire life would change, that I would no longer travel and no longer lecture. After leaving the lecture site we stopped for tea in one of those cute tea places that dot the landscape. They sold a few artsy kind of things and I saw this star and fell in love with it. The audience had made me feel like a star that day, a star undiminshed by sitting down - so it had real meaning for me. It meant that my life would continue, that disability was just a new wrinkle in old fabric. Everything would be ok. I love this star because it demonstrated to me that the tradition continues - that I could continue to expect a lifetime of expectations.
Speaking of stars, Joe and I were always really unhappy with our tree top. We had the 'holy whore' for a number of years ... she was supposed to be an angel but she was painted such that it looked as if she wore layers of gaudy make-up and we dubbed her thusly. Then we got a star with lights that changed colours and it just seemed, well, tacky. On a trip to England I was rolling down an aisle full of decorations at a Tescos and suddenly I saw this star. It looked like it had been designed by Dr. Seuss and seemed like it would be a perfect addition to the tree. I grabbed it right away and showed it with pride to Joe, who took a second to 'get it' and then 'got it'. We both think it's the perfect topper to the tree.
The whole tree is covered with people and places. Joan and Robert and Alfred and Ruth and Lisa and Ian and Marge .... Los Angeles, Glasgow, New York, Vancouver, London ... they're all there. Our memories on each branch, a journey through a life of purpose and a life shared. No, it's not a photo album and no, no one really understands it but us ... but that's ok. The gifts under the tree don't match the gift of the tree ... the history of lifetime spent in love.