My teacher, Buddy the Elf

I feel like I won the lottery, even though what I ‘won’ was actually something I paid for. This high is probably what people get on Black Friday, when, after elbowing and punching their way to the stack of aluminum mixing bowls, they come out with one before the all the bowls sell out. Just like that, I was one of the twelve lucky obsessives who placed a deposit on a tattoo by a coveted tattoo artist before anyone else could. I waited by my phone for the moment the artist posted the projects on his website, and I was so anxious until I received the confirmation of my payment for one, sure that someone would have gotten to it seconds before I had. In eleven minutes, all twelve projects were sold out. One of them was sold to me. I was a winner.

I’m still nervous, though. I won’t trust that I actually won the tattoo until I’m actually getting it tattooed onto my body. I’m afraid someone else will show up and be named the true winner, and I’ll have to turn around, the spot on my body where the tattoo would have gone still bare.

This isn’t a unique situation for me. I have a tendency not to trust certain feelings or external circumstances until after they’ve passed. I rarely take things at face value, and I have a belief that things are never as simple as they seem. This could be an asset, as I am more prone to look beneath the surface and seek meaning beyond what is initially presented. But it is also a symptom of skepticism and cynicism, which are helpful to a point but can also prevent connection and joy.

When my family was watching Elf a couple of weeks ago— an annual tradition— I realized that this is the crux of the movie: the tension that keeps the plot moving works because it is a tension based on our society’s skepticism of all things ‘impossible.’ We don’t take things at face value and don’t trust that someone presenting themselves as perennially cheerful could possibly be so, that something that logically couldn’t exist might. Afraid to be labeled as gullible fools, we don’t fall for anything. We would rather be cranky than be lifted into hope.

But that’s the very script the movie flips: we are allowed for a couple hours to exist in a hopeful world, one in which elves can make us happy and Santa knows what we want deep down in our hearts. In this world, we know that crankiness is wrong and that hope should prevail, that things can be taken at face value, that cheerfulness isn’t always a coverup. We aren’t afraid to be taken as gullible fools; we know we’re right to be on the side of light. And even though we understand why no one believes that Buddy the Elf is just as he says he is— because we are those same skeptics in our real lives— we want everyone to believe him. We are rooting for him despite— or maybe because— we know what he’s up against. He’s going against us. And, despite ourselves, we’re rooting for him.

So that’s where I am with this tattoo, as silly and seemingly unrelated as it is. I want to believe that the good thing— my ‘winning’— is real, but I am afraid to be taken the fool and therefore won’t let myself believe it until I see it. I am a doubter, a product of a doubtful world.

…And yet, despite myself, I have made room for excitement, for a touch of happiness for my good fortune. Like those in Elf who accepted Buddy even if they didn’t understand him, I am allowing myself a little bit of light, even if I don’t fully trust it. It’s there, even if I don’t always see it. Buddy was there, even if few chose to believe him. It seems so simple, but sometimes happiness is the hardest thing to let in.

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