I want to tell you a story. A holiday story. But, first, some background. It comes from a Zen teaching aoout the difference between “experience” and “experiencing.”

The teaching gently suggests that an “experience” is an event or thing. Something you post on your feed or check off your bucket list.  “Experiencing” is a mystery. It’s the indescribable (but undeniable) sensation of being outside the snowglobe of your own little world into the vast expanse of all existence. That place of wonder where your jaw drops open, your eyes blink and you find yourself on the help but be blown away at the connectedness, the eternal connectedness, of all things. The point of the teaching is to, perhaps, leave open just a little bit more the windows of your life

So that, amidst the experiences of your busy days, there is room for experiencing.

Now, back to our story. It happened the other night and begins with a bunch of experiences.

First, the experience of decorating our holiday tree which was the intention of the night.

Before that, there was the experience of picking my elderly mom up from assisted living so she could join my partner, dog and I in the occasion. There also was the experience of the car ride between Sunrise Senior Living of Plano, where Mom lives, and our house which used to be Mom’s home. A car ride where we checked in on each other’s days and I asked Mom what she wanted for dinner. Her answer was pizza from Campisi’s, a local restaurant that used to have ties to the mob and that has been part of my family’s experience for more than sixty years. Then there was the experience of getting Mom situated when I got her to our place and leaving her with my partner and our dog as I went to make one more business call.

And order pizza.

After all that (can you feel me checking the things off in my mind?), I stepped out of my office and crossed the threshold into our den.

There, in the corner, was a tree circled with lights. And there, side by side by side on the couch, was my mother, partner and dog. Mom was telling my partner stories from holidays past, including the now very ratty Christmas manger that I have loved and cherished since first grade. My partner was talking about the fun he and I had buying our tree from the crew at Moomey’s who, each year, send truckloads of trees (and sometimes snow) down from Michigan.

There was nothing magical or particularly memorable about the moment. Yet, in it, I saw and felt and heard everything I hold dearest to my heart. The moment, the light and the tree of this year transfixed and transported me to that timeless, betwixt and between world, where all the families dwell who have ever (and will ever) gather for moments around their trees and their lights.

The world where, as Blake says, “everything appears to man as it is: Infinite.” The world of experiencing.

Which, for me, is a very ordinary world. A world of love, gratitude and awe.

A world of the blood love between a son and his mother. The found and cultivated love between a man and his partner. The natural love between a man and his dog. The timeless love between humans and light.

A world of very present gratitude for all four. And, eternal awe that I am here,  in this body, for the experienc—ing.

That world lasted through the rest of the night. Through the decorating, the laughter, the memories.

The pizza.

Its whispers continue to last this very morning, as I sit here with the rising sun in front of me and a strong glass of iced coffee beside me.

I won’t say much more because to do so would be to turn the whole thing into an experience and that would defeat the intention of the story.

Instead, I’ll just leave the words, the story, here.

So that, maybe, you too will look up from the list of today’s anticipated experiences.

Walk over to that threshold of experiencing that is always here.

And surrender to the spirit of the season.

This-n-That is a collection of stories that less about any specific category and more about the everyday wonder of living life.