I've had trouble coming up with a topic for my blog this month. I could talk again about what the Board has been up to or other things going on at Westside, but it's the HOLIDAYS! Something more seems needed, but what? So I did what I always do in situations like this: I procrastinated.
Last night, with the deadline looming, I woke up in the wee hours wondering what pearls of wisdom I could contribute regarding the holiday season. My first idea was to focus on the earth-centered concepts that I have come to believe are the true basis for all the season's celebrations. I tried to imagine how “primitive” humans must have felt as days grew shorter and nights grew steadily colder and stores of food dwindled. I'm sure the “scientists” and “priests” of their day told them that this had happened before and that things always got better. But it must have been a scary season for the common folk, and their faith in the assurances of their leaders must have been a bit uncertain. . . . Then came the Solstice, and light and warmth slowly returned and the natural world reawakened. That surely called for a big party! It also made a good foundation for religious theories.
Lying there in bed, I soon realized (as you undoubtedly have already concluded) that I am not theologically or philosophically up to the task of saying anything profound regarding the sources of our seasonal religious traditions. So my sleep-deprived mind wandered on to my most vivid Christmas memory.
One early December morning when I was a senior in high school, the principal appeared in the door of my English class, called my name, and told me to come with him. As I got up from my desk, he added, “And bring your books.” Something was definitely up. I followed him down the long hall to his office, all the while trying to figure out which of my shenanigans could have blown up to this degree. We stopped by his office long enough for him to get his coat and car keys and tell me that he was taking me to the hospital where my dad had been admitted. That's it; no further explanation.
When we got there, my mother told me that Dad had had a sudden, massive heart attack. They didn't know if he would make it. The family had been notified. Mother and I sat silently waiting for news until mid-afternoon when she sent me to pick up my younger brother from his school. It was up to me to explain things to him.
The next couple of weeks were the darkest I had ever known. The only world I had ever known was in peril. One of the two pillars of that world might die. I guess I felt much like those ancient people must have felt as they watched the days grow darker and colder and didn't know if things would get better. All the holiday hoopla going on around me seemed empty and almost insulting. But for some reason I still don't understand, I latched onto the lyrics of one carol that I'd never paid much attention to before:
God rest ye merry gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember Christ our Savior
Was born on Christmas Day
To save us all from Satan's pow'r
When we were gone astray
Oh tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
Oh tidings of comfort and joy
My adolescent heart needed to be told “let nothing you dismay” and craved “tidings of comfort and joy.” Those two phrases replayed themselves in my mind constantly over that long dark time.
Then, just before Christmas, Dad came home. He was frailer than I'd ever seen him, and he wasn't allowed to do much for a while. But our family's quiet celebration that year was my best Christmas ever.
Best wishes to everyone this holiday season. If you are religious, celebrate your beliefs with wild abandon. If you are an old agnostic like me, sit back and revel in the happiness and good will around you. And if you find things getting darker and colder, keep faith that light and re-birth are just around the corner.