As for Megan, after two hours she settled with her back against the wall and stood staring at the Christmas tree. It occurred to her for the first time that the other people in the room were actually enjoying themselves. This dull, lifeless, little social event was pleasant to them, as were all of the other holiday activities. Not one of them had ever stopped to wonder whether it might all be meaningless. They stood sipping champagne and discussing topics that were of absolutely no importance. Their lives had always been the same—most of them had known no great tragedies, but neither had they experienced any deep joy. They had been born in comfort, and they had lived without ever having any meaningful contact with the rest of the world, or even among themselves. The questions that plagued her constantly had probably never even crossed their minds.
From the corner of her eye, Megan glimpsed the flashing lights of the Christmas tree, and she turned to look at it once again. She had always loved the tree for all that it symbolized—tonight it symbolized this gathering. Gaudy, green and gorgeous with its snow tipped branches and frosty white decorations, it was as beautiful a tree as could be seen in any home in Buffalo that night. Yet, for all its beauty, it was dead. Once alive, it had fallen victim to someone’s axe, and now it stood in the living room in just enough water to keep the needles green until after the holidays ended. Then it would be stripped of its ornaments and taken to a recycling center where it would be reduced to mulch. Its usefulness had ended. It had been sacrificed to become a splendid centerpiece for the Cleary’s living room.
The people at the party were very much like that tree. If they had ever truly been alive and capable of questioning their surroundings, they had long since cut away that part of themselves. They had sacrificed themselves in favor of a public image. Was she to age and become a part of this shallow self-serving little clique without ever finding out whether real life existed somewhere outside the sheltered walls of their neat little lives?
Perhaps Christmas itself was like the tree—all show and no substance. Christmas, which she had loved so much as a child, had disappointed her. It was nothing more than the ultimate commercial holiday. Gift giving and holiday parties were part of the trappings of an enterprise supported by merchants in order to keep the economy healthy. To add the finishing touches and make a hedonistic celebration seem like a humanitarian enterprise, small children sang, “Joy to the World” outside houses throughout the city. Those innocent little carolers and the shallow adults who heard their song had never stopped to reason that there might well be no joy in the world at that moment nor would there ever be. It was more a ritual than a celebration; people participated out of habit and social custom rather than true feeling. She wondered whether anyone over the age of five really enjoyed Christmas. Unwillingly her thoughts traveled back to the people in the barrio that surrounded Safe Haven. What must they think of this holiday when the stores were filled with expensive gifts they could not afford to give their children? They would not be deceived by sentiments of “peace on earth, good will toward men.” They must dread the coming of the holiday and be grateful for its passage, for if the wealthy were unhappy at Christmas, the poor must certainly be despondent.
Excerpted from The Twelfth Juror by Alexandra Swann. For more information visit http://www.frontier2000.net/16922.html