As I write this, it’s early October, but it feels as if the year has already come to an end. I’m almost positive that the Christmas decorations are about to go up along Orchard Road where each night, their maddeningly cheerful lights and fake Santas will remind me that I am about to spend a whole lot of money on useless presents for a whole lot of people that either I don’t really like, or don’t see enough of during the year to actually bother making the effort of liking.
It would be so nice to not bother with the whole nonsense, seeing as I’m not even Christian. But that said, my kindergarten teacher was a dyed in the wool Methodist from South Carolina. I went to a Catholic primary school and dutifully read the Bible, but frankly, I just never saw the point of the Holy Trinity.
It hardly helped that my mother’s best friend was a Cambodian princess who became a nun at the Church of the Holy Infant Jesus back in the day before the whole place became CHIJMES and she smoked like a chimney and could turn the air blue with her foul language delivered in flawless French, Cambodian and Hokkien.
As my sister always pointed out, with a role model like that, it’s no wonder none of us paid any attention to Monsignor Duchamp whenever he came to dinner.
Meanwhile, my dad is Buddhist, and my mother, depending on the level of guilt she’s feeling on the day, fluctuates between the Roman Catholics and the Baptists.
Personally, I’m still all at sea when it comes to matters of the soul. I’d like to think that there’s someone out there looking out for us all, but the practical part of me wonders how even a supreme being can pay attention to every single person on the planet. I can’t even text and drive at the same time.
And yet, despite all my misgivings and questions, there I will be on Christmas Eve, at some friend’s house, happily singing ‘Away in the Manger’ like there’s no tomorrow.
Then on Boxing Day, as I sit at home mentally doing my sums and getting a little frightened about my next Visa bill, I swear to myself that I won’t do it again. That Christmas is just a horrible commercial gimmick. That, next year, I’m not going to give any presents. That, if I really want to find the answers to the questions of life, they won’t be found in a Tiffany’s catalogue or a Ralph Lauren gift wrap.
I say this every year, of course, but I always end up spending an awful amount of time slavishly shopping and ticking off people on my list.
This year though will be different, I think. My father’s recent health scare seems to have finally given me the perspective I’ve been looking for. For the first time, I realized that life isn’t really about the job. Or that pay-rise. Or the new car. Or the new model phone. Yes, it would be nice to have all of that, but when the chips are down, none of it really matters if you’re sick and alone.
Saffy says that may be true, but it would really help if you were sick, alone and rich. “Can you imagine dying all alone in a hospital corridor because you can’t afford a room?” she asked the other day.
“Of course, you need good friends and family, as well,” I added.
“Listen, if you’re rich, you’ll always have friends and family around!” Saffy said. “Rich people never die alone.”
Amanda says that’s so incredibly cynical, but Saffy is sticking to her guns on this point.
“It’s bad enough that we don’t know what’s on the other side of death,” she said recently at the funeral of the brother of our friend, Chris. “Imagine how much more horrible it must be if the last thing you see is not a friendly face, but an empty room?”
“So the point would be?” Amanda prompted.
Saffy drew a big breath. “The point would be that we need to cultivate a loyal group of friends and family. And to do that, we have to buy their loyalty. Which is why, this Christmas, I’m giving you both presents from Gucci and Cartier! And if you want me to visit you in the hospital, you’d better be giving me something from Prada!”
Amanda later said that Saffy is like the coming of the Anti-Christ. “But with a much stronger business acumen!” she added. I detected a grudging note of admiration in her voice.