Yet...despite it all...still was.
* * *
Forgive me. My inner clock is...oh, how can I put it charitably...? Well, not exactly “finely-calibrated.” I wanted to send a Christmas Greeting to you, Dear Reader, but I have been a worse-than-usual, time-challenged goof. Forgive me.
I wasn’t prepared for Christmas this year. Where does the time go? I’m not kidding, these days of mine have wings. I live in chaos.
A maelstrom of lawyers, repairs, new experiences, boxes, despair...
and happiness. Where does the time go?
And it didn’t help that the weather was downright balmy. Winter paid a brief visit, but didn’t linger. It was in the 40’s Christmas Eve...with rain predicted. It was already pretty soggy. As for snow? Well, there were only a few derelict remnants of the snow plows’ past labors. Where, I ask, is Christmas? I have no tree, no presents, no family, no garlands, no intact traditions. When and where, exactly, is Christmas this year?
My neighbors didn’t help much, either. Poor communities don’t go all out in the “festive lighting” department. My little community is shrouded mostly in dark. Luckily, a woebegone shrub wrapped in a single strand of lights seems all the more magnificent because of its incongruous humility.
Oblivious to the season though I was, Christmas made itself felt as I approached the grocery store door. A tattooed-Raiders jacket-clad Hispanic, with two blue tears inked at the corner of his eye, held the door open for me...and waited...smiling. As I approached I greeted him with “Feliz Navidad
!” We both smiled. We can revert back to our stereotypical behaviors in the coming year. But, hey, it was Christmas.
I could feel the shift in gravity, the crackle of magic.
Christmas found me, again, when I clambered out of my car only to see my neighbor standing in the raw wind, waiting patiently to make eye contact. He raised his hand in greeting, “Merry Christmas
Yes. It was Christmas.
* * *
As luck would have it, the History Channel re-ran the story of “The Christmas Truce
.” Baby Jesus, Himself, couldn’t have scripted a better tale (well...the ending left something to be desired).
It happened that first winter in the “War To End All Wars
.” It was a different era, then, the glittering twilight of Empire. The military was a class of its own, steeped in tradition, festooned with medals and gold braid. And so it was that the glittering, prancing cavalry, the lancers and dragoons, marched off to war, only to meet...the machine gun.
No one expected such carnage. Soldiers, human beings...literally clawed their way into the earth to escape the merciless fusillades. Within a few short months, the grand armies of the Allies and the Axis huddled within raw gashes in the Earth, reduced to a grotesque subterranean existence of mud, rain, squalor, fear and the stench of death. The war that began with such fanfare and manly patriotism had morphed into horror and suffering incarnate. The war that “would be over by Christmas
” had only just begun. It was the winter of 1914.
They say it started in a Flanders field, south of Ypres, where suffering British faced suffering Germans. In fact, more troops died from disease than bullets and bombs that winter. They had yet to learn how to survive as rodents. Every boy in every trench along the length of the 300-mile Western Front knew that the war was no where close to being over. The suffering had only just begun.
But it was Christmas Eve, and something profound began with...
The British were startled to see candles appearing atop the earthen ramparts of the German line. Was this some kind of trick? Then they heard caroling across the inscrutable emptiness. The German troops were softly singing Christmas carols. Gravity had shifted.
The British set aside their Enfields, and took solace. Soon, the caroling became a rondo, German verse, English verse, soft carols and hymns winging their way to Heaven. News raced up and down the line that something unusual was happening. Peace descended in fits and starts along hundreds of miles of the Western Front.
And as this night of candles and carols gave way to Christmas Day, an unarmed German soldier began wending his way towards the British line. Incongruous, no, to see a bedraggled soldier treading cautiously over scarred and shell-shocked terrain, tortured earth consecrated with blood and tears...the cursed “no-man’s” land...weaponless...
clutching a sprig of evergreen, candles hanging on for dear life, wanting only...?
This was no trivial gesture. Although the British and French became aware of the Teutonic tradition of decorating a Yule Tree several decades earlier, the practice was not widespread among the Allied nations. That changed, however, as letters from the Front found their way to family and friends, describing the evergreens the Germans had festooned with candles and ribbons and the profound experiences engendered. Perhaps it would do us all a bit of good to remember the roots for our traditions when we decorate our Yule trees, many wars later.
Christmas was a profound experience for millions that day. Soldiers from both sides poured from their trenches to meet in the middle. Gifts, souvenirs, food and drink and heartfelt wishes were exchanged. They joined together to bury the dead, mourning each other’s fallen. Friendships blossomed and addresses were exchanged.
The Generals were apoplectic. How can one wage war if it means picking up a rifle and shooting dead a friend? Commanders moved swiftly to restore “order.” Let’s just say that this blessed truce was summarily executed.
Four more winters came and went with no more caroling and embraces. More than 8.5 million young men died before the parties involved succumbed to spiritual and physical exhaustion, laying down arms just long enough to give birth to a new generation destined to be immolated in the hell-fires of war. Sixty million human beings perished in the Second World War as, yet again, we humans embraced madness and terror rather than sweetness and light...and each other.
* * *
And so began my Christmas. I fell into a reverie, at once both melancholy and hopeful (fueled, in part, by my feverish relapse into ill health).
Granted, I shed a few tears. So many and so much have died these past few years. I’m still learning the ways of an orphan (I’m finding it a difficult curriculum). There is still mourning to be done, and mourning comes easily in a world of skeletal trees all beseeching Heaven.
I fell into a dream state as my house grew dark and silent. Thoughts, fragments of thoughts, emotions and the reveries of a young boy swirled around me and percolated through me. There were tears and smiles and a great many sighs.
I don’t have sufficient talent to capture all this in words (that’s why this entry has been so long in the making). I pondered a great many questions that have no answers. Not yet, anyway. Whom shall I serve? How? Where? And, Why? This pilgrim’s lost his way. And I considered that Love is what we make of it, and Life can be how we imagine it. I have yet to learn how to love enough...but (in my world) at Christmas, all dreams are possible. I have hope. And I yearned to be with loved ones so that I could love them all the more. And I pondered how and why do we revert to savagery so quickly and reflexively after turning our eyes skyward at Christmas and singing “Joy to the World
!” And I wished that the souls of those Christmas celebrants now buried in Flanders would come to haunt all those who would do harm to another. And I reveled that I’d received books to read, remedies to imbibe and teas to drink from those who had never even met me. I gave thanks for being showered with love at a time when I find myself wondering what the hell “Love” even means. There was a much-appreciated phone call from an old, dear friend to savor, and a letter that could melt stones to read and reread.
In a head filled with dream shapes and memories, musings and magic, my thoughts turned to family, the human spirit, new hopes, new days...seeds planted. And I pondered you, each and every one of you, and the way souls bump and rub and pique and satisfy across all time and space (I may not know much about the human soul, but I can recognize magnificence). Christmas has always been about longings, aspirations, hopes and dreams. And thus, my Christmas was everything it always was. And always will be.
* * *
As belated as these greetings are, I wish for you, Dear Reader: joy...glad tidings...peace...good will...song...hope...
* * *