If I could have one wish, it would be for the spirits of Christmas to forgive me for what might have been. Instead of saving my pennies to spread joy to those in need this season, I blew my wad on an act of supreme self-indulgence. Blame my seven-year-old self.
I was one of 70 or so hockey fanatics who shelled out $15,000 to hang out for four days with Wayne Gretzky at his inaugural hockey camp in Phoenix back in February.
Was it worth it?
Well, let's see. For $15,000 they gave me a plane ticket and hotel accommodation. Transportation to and from the airport. On the return flight, I walked to the gate with Cap Raeder - former coach of the L.A. Kings. I got a pair of very expensive hockey sticks, first-rate hockey gloves, two camp jerseys with vintage Edmonton Oilers logos and pads. I got pictures with Geoff Courtnall and Bobby Hull. Not to mention a picture with the Great One himself.
Fifteen thousand dollars. Was it worth it? They gave me enough ice time to pull my groin and throw out my back. I chased Paul Coffey into a corner and he threw me into the boards with one hand, picking up steam for an end-to-end rush. Coffey had to get through me to complete an end-to-end rush! Wayne (I get to call him that now) signed three vintage jerseys for me, and each one would apparently fetch close to a thousand dollars on eBay.
Also, there was free beer on the bus. I don't drink the stuff, but if I did I imagine it would be quite a perk. Just for pretend, I opened a can on every ride and held it up prominently in hopes of fitting in with the boys. Come to think of it, there was free beer in the refrigerator of my hotel room. I opened the fridge and stared just long enough to imagine how grateful Homer Simpson would have been.
At first, I tried justifying the cost to others by explaining how much free stuff they gave out. Fifteen thousand dollars. "Let's be clear," said one friend. "They didn't give you anything."
Well, OK, maybe. But here's the thing. The $15,000 was not about the autographs or equipment or ice time.
You see, I'm not a true hockey fanatic. I'm a Wayne Gretzky fanatic. The average age of the other campers was maybe 45. I'm 25. Which means I was seven years old when Gretzky won his first Stanley Cup.
During Gretzky's best years, I lacked the perspective to distinguish between a brilliant athlete and a deity. Mature adults understand (most of the time) that celebrities are only human, with perhaps a little more money and a little less privacy than the rest of us.
But children don't get this concept. And I was a child for most of Gretzky's career. I formally marked the end of my childhood with Gretzky's retirement in 1999. No words can describe what it felt like to see him skate by me during warm-ups or to sit next to him on the bench. I hopped over the boards one shift to take my position at left wing, and Wayne Gretzky (playing centre) yelled at me to go to the net. Can I say that again? Wayne Gretzky told me to go to the net.
So to anyone who asks, "Was it worth it?," let me ask you a question: how much would you pay to be seven years old again? Which brings me to the topic of murder.
World Vision says that for about a dollar a day you can provide a dying child with nutrition and basic health benefits. Which means that for $15,000 I could have saved the lives of 15,000 children for one day. Does this mean that by shooting pucks around the ice in Phoenix I shortened the lives of 15,000 children?
One friend told me I have nothing to feel guilty about. "You're a good person and you deserve to be happy,' she said. "After all, that's what money is for!" But when I confessed my angst to a complete stranger, he promptly disagreed with my friend. "You could have fed those children and chose not to. You should feel guilty."
It's the stranger's opinion that my own logic embraces. So where does this leave me? Those four days with Gretzky felt more important to me than anything in the world at the time. But the holidays are here, and it seems an appropriate time to reflect on our vanities and on those who have nothing to celebrate.
I would like some soul to tell me that those suffering on the other side of the planet are someone else's responsibility. This Christmas I want someone to tell me a lie. And I want to believe it.