As a little boy, the days leading up to Christmas took forever.

It didn’t help that everyone started preparing so early. Just after Thanksgiving, neighbors started putting up blue and red and green lights along their roofs, wrapping the trees in their lawns with yellow and white. On TV I saw ads for Christmas shopping and as I rode the bus to school in the morning the radio played Christmas songs, even though Christmas was still four weeks away. In school, my kindergarten teacher had us make paper stockings with cotton ball fluff and Santa pictures out of macaroni. She made certain we had plenty of time to mail off our Dear Santa letters so they would reach the North Pole in time.

The slow buildup proceeded in my own home. My father and I would search the pine tree farms for the perfect tree, my mother would bake cookies and have me decorate them. Slowly, the pile of presents built up under the tree and I would sneak under the spicy boughs to see which ones were mine. I lay awake at night wondering what the large box held and what the small box that was heavy as a stone held. Each morning I tore open the little windows on my advent calendar and ate the sweet chocolate inside with growing excitement.

Those days before Christmas were the slowest days of my young life and I desperately wanted them to go faster.

In general, my youth was spent anticipating. I couldn’t wait for the ballgame on Saturday, the warm days of summer to arrive and the rare week up at camp, the days leading up to school when I bought color pencils and pads of paper and wondered what my English teacher was going to be like. I waited for high school so I could become one of the big boys, sixteen to come so I could drive, twenty-one so I was an adult. And always, frustratingly so, the more I anticipated, the slower those events seemed to arrive. It is not hard to see how I became an impatient person.

I drive a little to fast. I eat dinner and do something else at the same time, whether it is reading a book, surfing the net, jotting down a few lines for something I am writing, or even watching TV. My thinking is, why do one thing, when I could get two done at the same time? I’ll skimp on the toothpaste and milk so that it will last me a week longer. Time is important to me. I have so much I want to do.

It always shows up most when it is time for traveling home. When it’s time to go, I just want to get home, even if I am halfway around the world, I want the fourteen hour flight to take ten minutes. I just don’t enjoy the leisurely relaxed return. In part because I feel like just getting the return over with and get on with the next thing. This is not an inherited trait – I picked it up on my own.

My mother and father like to take their time coming home from a vacation. They will take the back roads and stop at more than one antique store and rather than zipping through the drive-through at McDonald’s, they want to stop at the diner where things take a little longer and they can eat their food at a table in their own time. I on the other hand prefer to be home, only minutes after it is time to leave.

It is not all my fault that I can’t enjoy the slow returns. I have had particularly bad experiences when it comes to return trips.

Early one fall, one of the schools I taught at in Japan invited me along for their annual teacher’s trip to Korea. I had been hoping to join them for I had never seen Korea and I also liked that group of teachers very much. The trip over was a quick one hour flight that landed in the southern city of Pussan, a sprawling version of Las Vegas mixed with a Florida tourist atmosphere. I enjoyed Korea, the food, the people, the history, relaxing in the much more American style society that, at times, felt like home. I was sad to leave after only three days and saddened even more to learn that I had been unfortunate enough not to have a return air ticket to Japan. I had to take the “Beetle” home. A “Beetle” is a small ship similar to a yacht that has seating inside of it like a plane. A hundred of us squashed into the boat, including three of my fellow teachers who shared my misfortune. However, all was not lost. I had heard the Beetles were quite nifty, speeding along above the waves on blades like a water skier. When I boarded, the boat looked like a boat, the skis hidden well below the water line, waiting for speed to lift the boat out of the water.

The airplane back was one hour, the boat back was supposed to take three to four. That was a slight irritation, large in my case, but even worse was the typhoon that was ravaging the Sea of Japan at the time, whipping the waves up several stories and churning the peaceful waters into angry cauldrons of seaweed. Still, our boat took off and we rose out of the water like a goose taking flight. The waves whipped along below us and we didn’t even have to experience the rise and fall, nor the seasickness — not that I was worried about seasickness. I never had been.

That was until the Beetle’s propellers became entwined with seaweed. Then the little boat stopped like it had hit a rock wall and nose dived into the Perfect Storm like waves. Thankfully, we popped up like a champagne cork held under water and suddenly released. But without our speed, we sat on the top of the water and felt the full brunt of the typhoon tossed waves. It wasn’t long before the lines to the bathroom stretched around the little cabin and people began sicking themselves in their own seats for lack of anywhere else to get sick. The little engines roared as they pilots tried to get the propellers unstuck. Eventually they did, but not before 75% of the passengers were green and missing their lunches. We rose out of the water to a few cheers and headed on our way.

Until the next choking patch of seaweed.

The process repeated itself and most of the passengers realized that not all of lunch had been emptied and quickly moved to rectify that. I watched with growing uneasiness. Was the whole trip going to be like this? Maybe I too would become seasick. My stomach knotted itself and did a couple flips. I whispered a quick prayer. Oh Lord! Help this boat to get moving and help it not get stuck again. And please Lord, help me not to get seasick for the first time. Amen.

The boat did get stuck again and again. And again. I struggled with my stomach and asked Mr. Kawamura, the teacher sitting next to me, if this was normal.

He took a sip of his beer. “No. This is bad. But I think we are halfway.” He alone of all the passengers seemed in perfect control, not worried about a thing. He finished one beer and started on a second, munching crackers and his newly purchased seaweed (Korean specialty). I smiled weakly and waved off his offer of a piece of salted seaweed.

Each time our Beetle nose dived into the water, it was hard for me not to let the thought we were going to die cross through my mind. Boats are made to float, but they don’t always float. Again I prayed. Oh Lord! Help this boat to get moving and help it not get stuck again. And please Lord, help me not to get seasick for the first time. I love you. Amen.

I tried to sleep and pretend that this wasn’t happening, but it was hard because each time the propellers took longer to clear and our little boat was dashed about like chaff in the wind. Sometimes the boat tilted at an eighty degree angle as we road down into the trough of a wave and we had to push against the seat in front of us to keep from falling forward and then just as suddenly we were thrust into the back of our seat as we started climbing the swell. Then there were times that the waves crashed over us and we were completely below water.

No matter how fast I willed the little boat to go, or how many times I prayed that God would just keep the boat going, that it wouldn’t stop another time, it still did. Nothing I could do was going to make time go faster, or turn four hours into one, or stop the sea from swallowing me if it had been ordained.

And the whole time Mr. Kawamura drank his beer and even pulled out a sandwich to munch on. Mr. Kawamura realized that there was no possible way he could control the sea or the stretch of time and instead chose to do what he could to enjoy himself. And he did. The smile never left his face.

I watched him in wonder and prayed in agony inside. Oh, my Heavenly, just get it over. Teach me what I need to learn.

“My son. You rush here and there. You long for moments of accomplishment and achievement and experience. You wish life were filled with presents and activity and adventure, but you never sit back to reflect and listen and be. Here today, you had three hours to be with me, to hear what I had to say and teach you, and all you wanted to do was hurry it up.”

I am amazed when my God loves me so much he buys all the plane tickets, forces me to ride a boat, and sends a typhoon to ravage the seas so that my boat takes hours to reach my destination just so he can spend a few hours in with me.

© Seth Crossman