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Seeking Higher Ground: Santa in cyberland

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I’m over 60; that’s much too old to be asking Santa to bring me gifts from the North Pole.  

At my age, Christmas gets awkward. I have all the material goods I need, and it’s hard to shop for things like good health or replacements for friends and relatives who have died or moved away. Where do you line up to ask for life purpose, connection and meaning?

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It turns out that there actually is a place you can ask for things like that. Even though it’s quite local, it’s not really a place — not like Costco or the terrestrial North Pole. Like the fictional version of the North Pole, this spot isn’t actually located anywhere, unless you consider cyberspace a place.

Buy Nothing Roaring Fork is a Facebook group. I joined it several years ago. Our local chapter is part of a nationwide phenomenon. Unlike online garage sales and swap meets, Buy Nothing is a cybergroup in which buying and selling are strictly forbidden. It’s dedicated to two things: recycling and, in the process, community building. Only three kinds of posts are allowed: a no-strings-attached gift, an “ask” post, or a gratitude post.

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Through Buy Nothing, I have “paid it forward” by giving away all sorts of things: chairs, a breakfront, yarn for crafting, a drafting board, drawing lessons. I have asked for and received beloved gifts from people wholly uninvolved with the things I have given away. Needing an oil painting easel and dreading a drive to Grand Junction, I posted an “ask.” Within an hour, Lily Kennedy donated her easel to me. The first painting I did turned out to be Lily’s spirit animal, a mountain lion! Chris Klingelheber was gifting a king-sized brass headboard. I asked for it and put it to use as a trellis. Midsummer, after vines had covered it over, Chris brought his two daughters over to meet me and pick fresh beans.

Right now, Victor Mamlin is offering to help the group’s other 933 members with whatever they need, from changing a hard-to-reach light bulb to installing a floor.  Jonathan Isaac Saldivar has rallied people to help a homeless man who fell down and broke his guitar. Nancy Johnson has found a dog igloo, sweaters and food for a pooch that has been shivering outside in the cold.

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Buy Nothing Roaring Fork now has five volunteer administrators: Lynne Uhl, Liesl Clark, Jennifer Rockenbaugh, Shelley Schwinn and Signa Strom. They’re like the elves who keep Santa’s cyberland humming, opening the door for happy surprises and allowing new friendships to form.

Like one that began for me last week.

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At the end of November, I spotted a remarkable post by Jaspen Mackin. She wrote: “Ask: Grandparents! Sadly, I don’t have any grandparents anymore. I loved them dearly and I miss the relationship I had with them. I am saddened that my son will never have a physical relationship with them, but I won’t let this stop us. Lend me your grandparents!”

That brought a tear to my eye. I felt that I held the missing piece to Jaspen’s beautiful but incomplete jigsaw puzzle. I posted back: “Me!! I have no children, hence no grandchildren. I like crafting, and while I don’t cook often, I would make cookies or pie if I had a grandchild. I’d love to adopt a grandchild to take to make dinner for the homeless, to go to tree lightings, Easter Egg hunts.”

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As holidays approach, I miss having family. I have only a handful of relatives left. My beloved stepmother and her partner live in Longmont, but we’re often separated by two snowy mountain passes. My relationships with my brothers and sister are characterized by both geographic and emotional distance. In the past seven years, due to death or distance, I have lost three best friends in succession.

Last week, Jaspen, her three-year-old-son Conrad and I met at True Nature’s tearoom to see whether our jigsaw pieces would indeed fit together. Conrad knew the place; he headed to a nook under the stairs, then reappeared at our table, outfitted with a red velvet crown, a cape and a toy rainbow made of nesting pieces of brightly-painted wood.

As Jaspen and I explored our interdependent wishes and laid some plans, Conrad offered us various pieces of his rainbow — bits that he turned into boats, eyebrows and smiles.

We’re planning to go ice-skating next week. The rink is in Glenwood. It’s a lot closer than the North Pole, but by my reckoning, it’s pretty close to Santaland, and I’m looking forward to gifting bits of my rainbow to Jaspen and Conrad.

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