Friday, December 17, 2010

At Christmas

My book club, as I've written here before, tends to push me towards doing things I'd not normally do. Read hard, sad, rigorous books, like The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, for example.  Or, on at least one occasion, write a poem.  Out of sheer Christmas Desperation.

Usually, for our December meeting, we don't read any book, either rigorous or fluffy, on the assumption that everybody is way too busy.  We gather together around somebody's cozy fire, eat cookies and drink wine, and each of us reads from some Christmasy thing we like.  Sometimes Ida plays her cello.  That is a particular treat. 

Coupla Christmases ago I was planning to read from A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas.  Just a bit here and there and then the end which goes like this:

"Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept."

So, just to make sure I could pronounce parts like "moonlight" and "snow," I read through it aloud.  Guess what.  I could pronounce all of it, but I couldn't read the end without crying.  There was something about that "close and holy darkness" thing that cracked open my heart in the most awkward way.  

I don't know if it's because December binds us irrevocably to the tender hopes and dreams of childhood.  Or if it's the liturgy of the season that pours down upon us in sacred hymns and olde favorites like "Baby, It's Cold Outside." But for me there's a Ghost of Christmas Past on every corner, roasting chestnuts and stirring dreams. My memories of that little town in which I grew up, embellished by the passage of a lot of time and the erasure of the commonplaceness of the place, are rich, sweet and overpowering.  When Dylan says, "I could see the lights in the windows of all the the other houses on our hill?" Well, Ack!  I can see them, too.

So, that was out.  What to do?  Who knew what other emotional pitfalls lurked in beloved stories of the holiday?  I decided to pull one of my old sleight of hand tricks from my copywriting days.  If I needed a quote and didn't have time to get permission or whatever, I'd write one of my own and attribute it to Anonymous.  

I decided to write a Christmas Poem.  Ha!  

And I did.  I tried to capture what the season is like for women, who so often are the ones called upon to do a magical juggling act of bright ornaments, favorite recipes, sacred traditions and -- yes -- the perfect gift. Men make a ton of Christmas, too, and it would be no fun without them, no doubt.  But this was a girl poem for the ladies of the club.  I stuffed it full of hope and angst such as I feel when it's all too much, too, big, too fragile, too holy to deal with.  This is it.  

A Christmas Prayer

Bear us up, O baby in the manger.
Bear us up through the list-making, the driving, the parking, the trudging, the shopping, the wrapping, the baking, the cooking, the hoping that all will be well and all merry.  
It is the women who make the Christmas.  It is the women who wake at three o’clock in the morning and sit straight up in bed whispering to a man, who snores in oblivious yuletide bliss, “We forgot Nancy!”
It was a woman who made the first Christmas. 
Joseph swore he had nothing to do with it. 
And the other Father—well, where was He? 

Cheer us up, O baby in the manager.
Forgive us, for we know not what we’ve spent.
Surely, truly, we can never forgive ourselves. 
Bless us.  We mean well.
We mean to be gracious and not churlish.
To be generous and not begrudging.
To be kind, to be calm.  
To Be Organized.
Unfrazzle our hearts.

Lift us up, O baby in the manger.
Be the forgiving one who said “Love one another as I have loved you,”
 Not the one who threatened a lot of casting into outer darkness and gnashing of teeth.
(Reassure me that that one was just a case of bad reporting.)
I gnash my teeth and “click to submit my order.”
And wait for the UPS man to arrive with Christmas in a box.

So, raise us up, O Baby in the manger who might have preferred something from the Sears Wish Book to the cold foretelling of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Guide us through the valley of the shadow of the thought that nothing we do in this season of the year could possibly be holy. 

And lift us to the hope that anything we do in this season of the year might, by thy grace, be holier than we know.   Amen.

I didn't cry.  Well, maybe a glimmer and a catch at the end.  The ladies were nice about it. 

I expect to be back blogging before The Big Day, but in the meantime:  Happy Whatever Holiday fills you with the Spirit of the Season.  

And as one of my most favorite bumper stickers prays:  "God bless everyone.  No exceptions."