Friday, December 20, 2013

And they were sore afraid.

    Christmas, rush down upon us.
    If there's true evidence we've passed from youth to age, if there's any rock solid proof we are not who we once were, and have been put aside from our childish things, it's that the entire month of December moves like lightning, when once upon a time its passage was a glacial pleasure.
   One night. The 24th. Xmas eve, was an eternity. An opera of pre-adolescent impatience. So many hours, so many minutes, every second counted down in the dark. Murmurs and shapes beyond the bedroom door cased and interpreted like cold war intel. The youth of America become a horde of late night holiday Stasi. What are they doing? If, when, why, what? What will I get…..?
   And now I lift my head from the Thanksgiving table and December's in double digits. It's the solstice. Rudolph and Frosty long gone from their prime time slots. Holiday concerts concluded. Company parties thrown early to include Hannukah. There's barely enough time to put stamps to cards and hope they get there before Christmas. O-mail, oh o-mail (original mail), oh where have you gone?
   I'm 46. I don't own a house. I don't have a dog. I don't have a "primary physician". I have things in storage I haven't seen since 9/11. I walked away from a life in a hometown most people could only dream about to work part time on tv in a city I have about as much interest in as I do magazines at the dentist. My family is fractured, my friends have married and moved away, women I could have made a home with have made homes without me, and still, God, in desperate spite, do I love this time of year.
   Before I flee, I love driving down side streets in LA, seeing random Xmas trees being dressed in apartment windows. Row after row, after acre after square mile of Los Angeles rentals, the irregular holiday glitter gilding the low rim of the California night…. and the day after I leave everyone waking there to say "But how about this weather!" While we in the thousands funnel back to an odd Appalachian hill town in Western PA.
   I miss the different darkness which surrounds advent in the East. In Pittsburgh. The heavy cold, the slap of iron air on the face that drives us indoors to light candles and burn fires, and then what those candles mean to passers by. 
   Walking along streets I've known by heart and hand since I was 12. Houses I've dreamt about, wandered by, traced with my eyes, since before I could give a name to longing. That visceral thing that comes out the windows of my home town. That thing I fill them with. Sash and portico lit,  thresholds glowing, balconies strung with cords.
  I go to the same Church, same Christmas eve service that I have since I was a boy. When no one knows I'm in town or when I have no place to stay, I still go, and sit in a side pew and listen to the preludent hymns and carols, and watch the magnificent space fill with bodies. The coats and the scent and the murmur, the same it has been for decades.
  We kneel on rich cushions, our throats struggle to sing, the men have become too old, the acolytes impossibly young, was the church this bright when you were a child, the sermon seems glib, the Bleak Midwinter too short, but the body folds in your mouth, the blood still scours your heart, did I see a friend descending from the altar but his family leaves quickly when the organist leaps into a bright concluding solo that would have made Ginger Baker proud and when I shake the priest's hand at the far end of the nave I notice he doesn't remember my face.
  And when we're let out into the new born world, for the life of me I cannot sleep, so I walk Pittsburgh's East End streets and poke around to catch a glimpse of the families who stay awake, listening for the muffled music of their parties running deep into the nativity, their houses burning safely, domestic scenes framed in windows like paintings taken from the museum, and made animate for a day.
  There's a Catholic church set on the slope of Pgh's Polish Hill which doesn't even begin its midnight mass until freaking midnight. So I can do my wander of the lanes of the greater city like a yuletide stalker, watch scores of families and lovers and the scorned and the solitary head to bed, and still in the wee hours show up at the steps of this place and see the faithful pour out. Carrying their children, stunned themselves by the length of the rite, quiet in the calm of evening, nodding to each other before they drive off to their suburban homes and leave this church of their forefathers to the inner city silence. It's breathtaking. I want to hold my hat in hand when they descend the stairs and leave me standing on the cobbles. The street built by the same men who built the church.
  I guess I should feel lonely right about then. But what I feel instead is peace. Calm. I guess that's what comes from Christmas' blunt communal heat. The furnace from which Spring's pentecostal fire will leap, so brilliant it should hurt, so fierce it should terrify but it leaves you, it leaves me at least, right where I should be. In tune. Everybody's listening. Everybody's facing the same direction. Like they said of Basie's band, everybody's breathing at the same time. Well, almost everybody. I don't know why I love that so…I'm suspicious of crowds, of parties, of the dull chants we all know (USA! USA! We will we will ROCK YOU.) ….but somehow come December 24th I'm enthralled by this herding of the faithful.
  I guess, at base, what stuns me into happiness and what hovers all around us all at Christmas is what I think can still be called …..revolutionary.
   A prophet's radical request. 
   The religion I was born into has all sorts of dramatic problems which are debated daily and its followers have a particularly bad habit of thinking every other religion was simply another rung on the ladder of faith that lead to them, but Christ did lay down one still remarkable challenge. I have no interest in individuating Christianity from Islam or Judaism or ….Zoroastrianism…. it has no privileges for its particular believers, but what it asks of of us, what it insists upon day to day to this very special day is dumbfounding. And brave. As the old prayer says, "We are bold to say…
  Poverty is not a poverty of the spirit. Wealth cannot be a wealth of things. In fact a wealth of things is an act of violence upon one's brother and sister. A prophet came into the world, as other prophets will and have, divine or otherwise, it cannot matter, to tell us…..Give it all the fuck away. 
  I mean, "….Jesus...".
  Literally.
  So when I stroll among the discount shoppers of mid-town Manhattan searching for a gift, when I watch the millions crush down 5th ave more interested in the grand opera of consumption than actually finding that gift, when foyer after business foyer is filled with Salvation Army clangor, blood and fire, and person and after person posts how much the holidays exhaust their patience, I can't do anything but smile. In all its forms, all the noise noise noise gets hushed for me by that simple ask.
   Give unto others. Something. Anything. I would bring a lamb. I will play my drum for him. Hold a door open. Nod to a stranger at a cross walk. Wait quietly in an insane line.  Laugh with your fellow waitees at the truth of that. Happily return to an analog humanity. Take half a day to buy something completely useless to honor someone priceless. Send a note. Put pen to paper and in your own hand express something which is proof positive of some actual time you spent to tell them that they matter.
   Neither you nor they nor most anyone you'll ever met will ever "matter" to the history books or to NASDAQ but in the ledger of humanity you took a second, you took an hour in a certain season, to give thanks and praise to those you know and maybe love. And if that isn't a good and joyful thing, what the hell is?
  Merry Christmas. Every one.

   

14 comments:

  1. Merry Christmas, David. Thank you for this stellar Chrostmas offering! Merry Christmas !

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  2. I would love for you to come to our Christmas Eve dinner and experience the Feast of the Seven Fishes with a bunch of crazy Italians who talk over one another and have a great time together. Our family is what you call " fractured " too. We lost our father 71/2 years ago and our mother 3 weeks ago. Needless to say this Christmas and every other one is going to be different to say the least. But we will make the best of it. I hope you find the peace that the holiday brings and the New Year brings you lots of happiness and health. God Bless.

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  3. I think anyone who has read your posts, knows that when you say, or rather write, that you should have been a writer, that you are one. This may be your publishing point for now, but surely there is a place where your words can stir and shimmer and dance across the mind-floors of a far wider audience.
    Visually arresting, taut with an emotional sinew I am not capable of describing—you are part poet, part philosopher, commenting on the here and now, the past and the possible in equal measure. This is Christmas in all its complicated wonder—true and false, connected and detached, rich with memory, hope and regret. I love to read—books have surrounded me and informed me, and as you noted previously, even imprisoned me—and I would never give them up. You have a gift. I'm hoping the world sees more of it. Merry Christmas, indeed.

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  4. merry christmas to you david....italy by a personthat admireso much and who loves you so much. greetings and best wishes again.....hello mary.

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  5. David, you are a painter. Except that you use words instead of a brush and oil paint to give us dashes of colour, a contrast of light and darkness forming a vivid image in my/our minds.
    You're right, Christmas is not what it used to be when we were kids. No longer we count the days until we are surrounded by family and make a mess of gift wrapping paper being tossed between burst of joyous laughter. Adults buy things more and more expensive to compensate the time and attention they do/can not give during the year and many kids expect nothing else but games and gadgets with which they can create a cocoon where they shelter themselves from the world.
    "It's the thought that counts" is something I've heard many times over the years, when it wasn't about how fancy/expensive the gift was, but the acknowledgement that someone dear went an extra mile to make or choose something truly special (even if it was a handmade postcard), giving us a warm, fuzzy feeling inside the chest.
    For me, it was always about books... I smiled and say thanks when people would give me a sweater or "something for the house", but those close to me know that it only takes a book to make my eyes glimmer and my lips turn into a smile from ear to ear. It would be lovely if one day it would be a book written by you, everything inside painted with words the way you do here.

    We got used to go through the season "negotiating" Christmas' Eve dinner and Christmas Day lunch because of the children, making sure there was one meal where the 3 generations would sit around the same table, share a meal, sing and enjoy. But this year, for the first time, we won't all be there because my son is spending the holidays with his dad. He feels happy and I feel happy for him, but... I know there will be moments of awkward silence when the rest of us get together this year (we'll get over it, but the longing will be there).

    Anyway... I want to thank you for sharing the images, the warmth that pours from them, for making me recollect a time when Christmas had a different meaning - maybe more pure and not tainted by consumerism, or maybe as a child I simply did not see things like I do now. Thank you for giving me back the certainty that Christmas is about the people who celebrate it together, even if for some reason someone is missing.

    Have yourself a Merry Christmas, David. I wish you peace, joy and many blessings.
    From the heart.

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  6. my favorite. so far. Give it all the fuck away...indeed.

    З Різдвом Христовим

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  7. My favorite part of Christmas is the small window of time late Christmas Eve. No rushing around, no commercialism, no chaos. Just the darkness and chill outside. The stillness. I feel like there is a slight shift and I am completely at peace.
    I, like you, miss the humanity, not only at Christmas, but everyday. Life is fleeting. Appreciate the people close to you.
    Merry Christmas, David. Wishing you much happiness and good health!

    Julie

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  8. Thought provoking and refreshingly honest. Kept my attention better than an espresso before reading my NY Times. So right on.

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  9. A storm is raging at the moment, you’d think its autumn. I was happy I could breathe in some of the Christmas atmosphere in NY last week (snow included!!!). Mingled in the crowd and waited patiently in line (on super Saturday) to buy a Dickens Village House to add to my small collection, which made me even happier!!! No stress about buying gifts for Christmas, as we have our Saint Nicholas celebration (with presents and rhymes) at the beginning of December. Just strolled along with my two best friends, enjoyed and felt thankful!!
    The older we get, the more memories we have. As if it were yesterday I remember my mother hanging chocolates in the tree and on Christmas morning hardly any were left because my older brother had pinched them even before we all got up. We usually went to church on Christmas Eve and had " worstenbrood" afterwards. I always went home on Christmas Day. This year I don’t have a "home" to go to anymore as my Dad passed away in August and is now reunited with my Mom. It feels strange!!! Friends have asked me to come over but I'll play it by ear and let my feelings be my guide! Will go to church tonight and light a candle for all loved ones and for the less fortunate in this world. Peace on earth at Christmas, it should be Christmas every day!!!
    Merry Christmas and lots of happiness in the New Year 2014!

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  10. Wonderful, left me feeling very fortunate and a little sad. This time of year makes me miss the Catholic Church. Merry Christmas to you and all on this page!!

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  11. Merry Christmas, David. Wishing you a happy and healthy 2014.
    Cari

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  12. You paint a realistic picture of the whirlwind that has swept up so many. Sadly, pretty much that first Christmas was the only one that ‘came without Packages. Boxes. And Bags.’  

    Yes, Give Unto Others.
    Mail a handwritten letter.
    Simplify and keep only what we need - give the rest away.
    Take time to visit, share a moment.
    Just Be.

    I too have walked and stalked in the crisp night air ~ peeking at what’s happening all around ~ there’s something magical, peaceful about the Christmas Season, about Christmas Eve ~ and the candlelight dancing in window sills ~ the swirling snowflakes ~ the joy, the story, the music, the quiet ~ memories. love. hope...

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  13. I love Christmas, I have always loved Christmas. But after my Dad passed it's been so difficult not because I don't feel the same way about Christmas but because I do. I get overwhelming feelings of joy and then overwhelming feelings of loss and confusion. My Dad loved Christmas, he would love the way my Mom would decorate and cook, and as we all laughed at this past Christmas he would always say "Babe, you out did yourself this year, MMMMMMM!" he said it every year. And we laughed and ate and exchanged gifts and it was wonderful (but empty a little) I wish I could say I miss him at Christmas but I miss him everyday and everyday my soul feels a little smaller and a little less capable of joy. This year I gave everyone black and white framed photos of my Dad and whoever the gift was for and of course we all cried and laughed and laughed and cried some more. I know I will never stop loving Christmas and all the Christmas magic but I knew my childhood magic was gone the day he left this world and I just miss him so.

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