Sap Sucker

Is it just me or is there an abundance of tear-choked moments stuffed into the holiday season?  That isn’t a rhetorical question, it could very well just be me; I can get choked up by a simple heartfelt thank you for a door held open.  Sometimes even the smallest gestured can work their way into my emotional wiring, but I’m talking about the larger scale sentiment all around us.  There seems to be a global conspiracy to up the sap factor around the holidays.  Maybe its longer nights to fill with romance.  Maybe it’s the hot chocolate and warm layers thawing the chill of apathy.  Maybe it’s the excess of spiked eggnog or the excess of family that drives one to drink spiked eggnog.  Whatever it is, I’m all for it.

I heard a study about how risk-takers gravitate to spicy foods as a way to challenge themselves through controlled physical pain. They literally play with fire.  Similarly some people enjoy watching scary movies as a way to experience risk on an emotional level, toying with the adrenaline rush of jump scares.  For me the thrill is from indulging in the flood of feel-good propaganda that studios and advertisers mainline into our collective psyche.  There are the coffee commercials with a surprise homecoming on Christmas morning.  The hero’s victory against overwhelming odds.   The swell of triumphant music as the underdog confronts his fears.  Hearing Inigo Montoya declare “I want my father back you son of a bitch” before running through the duke.  Forest Gump promising Jenny that he knows what love is.  The five minutes that Allie stirs from Alzheimer’s fog in the Notebook.  90% of Love Actually.  And don’t even get me started on the patriotic reunions with soldiers surprising their kids with an early leave from the military.  It’s relentless.  And wonderful.

Of course all of this stirring emotion is purely hypothetical; certainly a grown man such as myself would have nothing to do with such sappy cinema unless he lost a bet with his girlfriend or the batteries on his remote died.  Men are taught from an early age that nurturing is a feminine trait, and sappy sentiment needs to be abandoned in order to better focus on professional superiority, beer consumption and baseball stats.  My dad knew when and where to find a sporting event on TV at any time, any day of the week,… though this is when there were only 12 channels to choose from.   I don’t remember watching many rom-coms in my youth.  The closest thing to romance I ever saw were the soap operas like General Hospital and One Live to Live.  Originally I was just drawn in by the thin layer of intrigue with Robert Scorpio and the WSB spy agency, but it evolved into a shared experience with my mom, who enjoyed updating me on the story-lines I missed while in school.  This gateway drug grew into an over developed sense of romance, having experienced none of it during my awkward adolescence I settled for living vicariously through John Hughes films and Lionel Richie songs.  Even though I primarily related with the weirdos and loveless, I could get behind any happy ending (even the pretty dude from 16 Candles,… for Samantha’s sake).  That’s all anyone really wants, a happy ending,… errr, not the kind they give you in a sleazy backroom massage parlor, but the ones we experience in the collective darkness that leaves us feeling better than when we first walked in,… ok, that’s not helping.  Moving on.

As I get older, it is increasingly difficult to have the same optimistic view I did as a kid.  When I was younger I could imagine taking on the role of the hapless hero, and winning the girl through gutsy determination and honest empathy.  I had a lifetime of adventures still to play out and any one of those could land me in a comedic situation where an amazing woman falls right into my lap,… face first, after sliding down a muddy hill ahead of pursuing smugglers.   It could happen.  Or so I thought.  These days, with the exception of the 40 Year Old Virgin you don’t see many movies with a nerdy middle age dude scoring a romantic victory for the team.  Instead watching those same movies today I either realize just how old those sexy actors have become, or I ask myself if I could honestly outrun smugglers at my age or find the romance in our predicament after breaking my tailbone off that mud slide.  I look with a more critical eye at the wildly improbable serendipity of these magical movie moments.  Relationships sparking from a chance encounter or an unlikely friendship that blossom into an enduring, meaningful partnership.  They make love look so easy when it’s not.

According to George Strait, and a few others, “love is everything” and if love is “everything”, then what is love worth? What would you give for love?  What would you give up for love?  In the movies the characters make sweeping soulful sacrifices in the name of love.  They perform grand gestures and displays of affection right after a stirring musical montage where they struggle over whether or not love is worth the effort,… and then concur with George’s assertion.  In reality though how does this play out in our day-to-day lives?  What if we don’t have the PTO hours to stage that stunning mid-week surprise?  What if don’t we have enough left in the monthly budget to fly off to Paris or suddenly abort a planned solo trip, rushing back into the arms of our soulmate without regard for our checked luggage?

I consider myself a romantic.  I will go further than most to find a meaningful gift or struggle for days to pen the perfect sentiment that can’t be captured by Hallmark.   Sometimes though that’s not enough.  Sometimes in a relationship it’s simply a matter of “what have you done for me lately” where previous gestures either fade into memory or set an unreasonable precedence towards future expectations.  “Thanks dear for yet another pair of earrings,… now, have you taken out the garbage yet?!” Despite our best intentions sometimes the sentiment alone isn’t enough.  And perhaps it is this very thing that makes the Hollywood fiction so appealing.  The necessities of life and years of practicality may have tarnished the glamour of the fairy tale ending as it applies to me, but I still enjoy reveling in it vicariously; it is the epitome of romantic optimism.

So whether it’s a perpetual viewing of It’s A Wonderful Life, the National Anthem sung in tribute to Boston Strong or 9-11,  Zac Brown singing “for the stars and stripes” while showcasing active soldiers or even a simple toast at the next family feast, enjoy the stirring in your heart and the lump in your throat.  Be thankful we are alive to experience these emotions and carefree enough to embrace them; Grab that happy ending anywhere you can find it.

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