Lessons Learned

     Grampa sits at the window, gazing out at the stars. He’s not looking forward, to where we’re going, but rather he’s looking back: back to the home he left as a child; back to sunlight and rain; back to real grass and flowers you could actually touch and smell. Even if the Thelian Dawn finds a new planet to colonize, he knows it won’t be in his lifetime, so he holds tightly to his memories of Earth. He gets especially nostalgic this time of year in what he calls the “Holiday Season.”

     For most people, holidays fell out of fashion within a few years of leaving Earth. We hold Launch Day commemorations every year and the captain gives a speech about humanity’s unquenchable spirit and hope for the future, but much of Earth culture was left behind with the planet. The gift exchanges and lavish feasts of other celebrations had no choice but to give way to the reality of living in space. Finite room and resources make such observations not just impractical, but onerous to everyone aboard the ark.

     Most of what we now know about Earth holidays come from history lessons. We learn about various Earth cultures and the seemingly non-stop conflicts that divided us as a people. It’s taught as a cautionary tale to show how much we had to overcome before we could work together to build the generational arks and save mankind.

     But Grampa says there’s more to the story. He concedes the holidays could sometimes spur conflict — there was even a gladiatorial event called Black Friday that encouraged it! But he also tells stories of kindness and generosity, of people caring for one another regardless of differences, of rushed-but-sincere smiles shared with strangers. “People will always find ways to separate ourselves from one another,” he often tells me. “But every culture has some sort of celebration of unity and togetherness. When we look past the differences, we see how much we really have in common.”

     I grew up with his stories of Christmas when he was a boy on Earth. He told me about bundling up in heavy clothes until he could barely move so he could go outside to a world covered with tiny flecks of frozen water where he would play with friends until their fingers and toes were numb from the cold and wet. He told stories of bringing actual trees into their living quarters and decorating them with tiny lights and colorful doodads. He spoke of the smell of spices and fruit wafting through the house as his father baked cookies.

     “When I was a kid, I thought it was all about getting the best toys.” He’d shake his head. “I can’t recall a single thing I got back then, but I remember the joy. Not over getting presents, but giving them. I miss the happiness that comes with showing someone else how much you care.”

     His lessons are not lost on me.

     A ding from the oven tells me the cookies are done and draws Grampa’s attention from the window. “Are we all set?” He’s trying to act casual, but he’s already risen from his seat by the window to move over to the couch. I can tell he’s giddy.

     I am, too.

     “Just about,” I call over my shoulder as I put the cookies on a plate. The synthetic spices and flavorings fail to fill the housing pod with delicious smells, but Grampa assures they’ll taste just fine.

     I carry the cookies over and join him on the couch. We make quite the pair dressed in our matching pajamas — standard sleepwear from the quartermaster’s office hand-decorated in what Grampa says are snowflakes. We settle in and I hit a button on a remote to start the video player. It took me months of scouring the archives to find the movie, but the look on his face when he sees Nakatomi Plaza is worth it.

     “Merry Christmas, Grampa.” I hand him a cookie.

     He takes the cookie and pecks a kiss on my cheek. “I love you, too, Larret. Merry Christmas.”

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