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I’m one of those people that go through episodes of the Christmas funk each year. Aspects of the season piss me off and, yeah, just downright depress me: commercialism, the so-called “war on Christmas,” the pressure, the rush, the crowds, the bad music, the trite and obvious sentimentality and mindless traditionalism, etc. etc. blah blah barf.
Maybe more than anything it comes down to expectations and ideals that translate to mostly unmitigated crap in the real world. And let me be clear: the high lords of low culture, corporations, churches, the media–they’re all responsible for the shitty translation, but so are you, my friend, and so am I.
But there’s always something about the season that pulls me back, brings me joy and makes me feel good about not only the holidays, but about life, my life, us, all of us, the world.
So it was that the other day as I ventured into Silence and re-centering that I realized what it is that I so love and so hate about Christmas: it’s the humanity.
Of course for Jesus folk, that Christmas is human is eminently and immanently true. Christmas is when we choose to celebrate the singular miracle of Incarnation.
Atheist, pagans, etc., hang on, it’s yours too–I like to think there’s something here for all of us, whatever we do or don’t believe. As many of you smart asses are fond of pointing out, there are myths of incarnation in most every religion. That’s awesome; there you go. And obviously if you’re a godless humanist (sincerely, no derogation intended), the very need for incarnation is an absurd superfluity; so then why not take this opportunity to rejoice in the fact that for at least one moment–albeit each in his own goofy way–the rest of us are on board.
By my reckoning, at Christmas–if we do it right–we’re all Humanists.
And, now, forgive me, I’m going to indulge the peculiarities of the myth I believe. Please feel free to insert the greatness of your choice (“Greatness” itself, if you wish) where I’ve got Jesus below. That seems right to me.
Jesus was born.
Theists, soak in that for several minutes. If that’s not a disruptive thought, you’re not really thinking it.
Jesus came to the world an adorable–fragile, helpless, occasionally annoying–infant. He had to have his diapers changed. He cried and needed comfort. Let’s face it, unless you’re one of those people who just gets off on the whole baby thing (and, bless your hearts, there’s something wrong with you folks), for practical purposes, Jesus was worthless.
But there is something inexplicably and inexpressibly beautiful about a baby, isn’t there (damnit)–even in all of its worthlessness?
And there is value in loving what can’t really do much in return (not crying–the cessation of an activity it might not have started in the first place–or those sweet little smiles and giggles and snuggles, well, rationally speaking, those hardly count). And of course there’s all of that as yet unrealized potential–greatness we somehow innately perceive, despite the scarcity (or outright absence) of evidence.
As we age, most of us get gradually less cute, perhaps until that day we begin the regression into old age. We nevertheless continue to be human, to some degree at least.
I guess what I’m saying is that in some sick way, all of the politics, contention, cloying nostalgia, mediocrity–yes, even the awful music, disgusting commercialism and desperate, doomed attempts at things lovely and/or sacred–all of that failure and inadequacy and general brokenness and mess is inextricably human. Not to mention–but not merely–those times when by some act of Grace we actually get it right, when the song doesn’t suck, the food doesn’t make you sick, the gift isn’t a disappointment, the experience is ecstatic, the soul transcends nonsense to arrive at the sublime.
So as you’re putting up with people’s shit, imagine that you’re changing Jesus’ diaper. As you comfort that person whose problems and pain seem either trivial (at least exaggerated) or incomprehensible or, let’s face it, just their own damn fault, consider that you are in a sense (that I consider very real) holding a crying baby Jesus. How cool is that?
Those of you who are parents should especially understand this. My child was born on this very day, with Christmas looming. And I have never ceased to be startled and to wonder at how miraculous she is, even when I was changing those diapers, and even when I was never quite sure what the heck she was or was doing. She has always been beautiful and glorious, never stopped changing the world for the better. She started with her mother’s life and mine–even when her existence was little more than abstraction, then a protruding belly, then a bloody, gooey mess, through colic and on to many more obviously marvelous things.
She moves the world now, not merely with her kindness and wit, but in secret ways that most of you probably wouldn’t begin to understand and in ways that maybe only a father can see.
If you love anyone, are glad for or hope in anyone–even yourself, but especially some other–Christmas is for you.
Merry Christmas. Or, for Christ’s sake (for your own sake, really), find something and someone to celebrate, find some way that makes sense to you to make the days holy. Happy Humanity.
With the same finger you might use to fly the universal symbol for defiance and violent disdain (yes, that; yes, the), you can instead bring peace, harmony, cooperation and communication to the world. With little more strength than you possess in your daintiest appendage (the pinkie, I mean), you can control–yea, even hold back–one (perhaps many) of man’s mightiest implements of mass destruction. All that with a single finger on your left hand.
One simple device grants you such power.
I refer, of course, to the noble turn signal–overlooked, underused, quite often despised and prejudicially ignored. I’m convinced that this erstwhile lowly afterthought of automotive genius is one of man’s crowning achievements. I believe that its habitual and rightful employment would significantly improve the condition of this sick, sad world. Who knows, we might even hasten the second coming. O yes. For reals.
I can’t say for sure that it was one of my proudest moments, but I was certainly quite proud and felt an unusual warmth in my soul the day I witnessed my grown-up daughter express her own ardent affection for this underestimated instrument of pure goodness. It went something like this (note that the actual dialog is somewhat interpolated and may be a mash up of more than one instance; there have been a few):
Christine (speaking with uncommon conviction to the rude driver ahead of her on the road): “A turn signal would have been nice. Does your fancy car not have them?”
Me (hopefully): “So, you feel pretty strongly about turn signals?”
Christine (incredulous that I would even ask): “Duh.”
Me (barely containing giddiness but wanting to be sure): “Well, it’s just that so many people don’t quite recognize how important they are.”
Christine: “I’m not an idiot. They prevent accidents. They’re a means of communication. Th-”
Me (unintentionally–in my exuberance–and ironically acting like the cause of our frustration by cutting her off): “They’re a way to be polite to your fellow drivers. . . .”
(Conversation continues. By this time I’m glowing and hoping she doesn’t notice my inordinate enthusiasm. It embarrasses her when I’m too proud.)
Perhaps it’s to be expected. My devotion has surely spanned more years than she’s been alive. I did help teach her to drive and before that she was a frequent passenger when I drove. But it’s not the kind of thing I remember making a big deal of. Her recollection might be different (sigh; it often is). Really, though, the turn signal is almost something I take for granted. You’re going to turn? You’re about to change lanes? You signal your intentions. To do otherwise would be akin to taking your hands off the steering wheel and closing your eyes while you accelerate. Sure it could be done. It probably is done . . . by idiots.
Maybe it’s even genetic. Or maybe she’s just wise. I don’t know, but whatever its cause, it’s one of many things about her that make me happy. And it’s one of those things that convinces me that we share DNA.
So convinced am I of the worth of this glorious and brilliant light amidst the sea of darkness that is the American roadway, so committed am I to the cause of its proper appreciation and use that, I pledge to you, this isn’t the post that I write about turn signals; this is, in fact, merely the introduction to a recurring feature in this blog. Indeed, in my mind, this is a spiritual issue. You heard me. I have much to say about the turn signal–much, especially if you’re scoffing even now, that you need to hear.