Reader, here is no know-nothing muddle-mouth grinning till his time’s up, nor this month’s charismatic hotshot— let’s be glad for that. Nor is it time for deeper, troubled things, the heaviness of swollen hands that knit our sweaters or underfed teenagers who look like my six year old, sweet in his warm bed. Shall I go on, then, or end it?
It’s not even an occasion for lyrical greatness (who can bear or hear it?), or honoring the slain and scars of veterans (how to sustain it?) or excursions on hermeneutical wings along the Word. Or less estimable, more complicated forms of happiness: breathless days when we became better than ourselves, as if awaking from a dream.
Let other songs bless or curse with big decibels. I leave this business, such as it is, to higher-minded poets or tireless annalists.
I sing simply of Love, of grace, and those graces who are your friends, warm with life and giving you grief, playfully—these late evenings in December. And I sing of such beautiful people, even closer, safe and asleep nearby, here and there, her and her and him, so pleasing and peace be with them, and you too, Reader, you too.
It’s 1967 in Minnesota, and life is getting more and more difficult for physics professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg). Despite his best efforts to be a good man, a respected member of his Jewish community, a bona fide mensch, the structure of his life is collapsing like the walls of Jericho.
One day thought’s Gethsemane Like some personal handicap Or guilt, will venerate the image Of its last nativity, will fold Its wings away and say, “The bird of doubt has gone today.”
And all the “how could I be So stupid” habit of the soul Will harden to a pigment Like raven’s feathers, painted And set on an ancient canvas, Giving up its foreground To a moment’s peace in that journey Of escape from Bethlehem of birth.
Just as in David’s “Rest on the Flight Into Egypt,” an angel having whispered Of slaughter, “You must leave, Joseph,” He, knocking walnuts from the tree, The donkey munching quietly some hay, His son reaching up for grapes, A young child’s suffering at play, Not thinking yet, “I must, they say.”
And Mary, seated on a rock, After long labor, serene as Nazareth, building her pyramid.
Just after we’ve communally stuffed and thanked, the first sleet comes down in shanks of dirty lambs’ wool, rude messy sheets, slathering the cars we hunch in, hurrying again, against some febrile deadline, dodging the poor squiggling squirrel trying to shoot across the heavy-metal trafficked road that intersects his world.
He seems to have made it, tail on. We may, too, make it home, untripped this time by our own haste, knowing in some dark artery that the meal we need, the company against the cold, like the animals in the Ark, are all waiting, like Advent, inside the small rooms of the remaining calendar, we pass through, one by one.
Eve got off the bus in tears the day her third grade teacher scolded her for using a hankie. “It’s not sanitary,” she said. Miss Pauley had no notion of what a handkerchief means to us: reusable tissue, wash cloth, gripper of lids, wiper of smudgy glasses, emergency bandage, keepsake we carry to the grave. Peekaboo with a hankie triggered Eve’s first laugh, and later she sat through sermons watching Grandma Yoder fold a flat square into a butterfly or mouse. Now Eve does that for her sister and knots Ruth’s Sunday pennies in a corner like a hobo’s sack. She irons and stacks all the hankies in our drawers and brings a bandanna drenched with cold water to her dad who ties it round his neck. Last Christmas she gave me a set of four lacy kerchiefs embroidered by her own hand, each with my initials and a leaf or flower to signify the season. Straight from a city college, Miss Pauley could only count the virtues of a Kleenex. “Like a lot of things, hankies grow softer as they age,” I said, using one to wipe Eve’s tears.
A Turkish couple living near the Syrian border invited 4,000 Syrian refugees living in or near their city to their wedding party. The idea came from the groom’s father, who hoped their example would inspire others. The couple pooled money they had received from family members to throw the party, and wedding guests contributed food as well. The bride admitted being shocked when she first heard about the plan, but agreed that seeing the happiness in the Syrian children’s eyes was priceless. Nearly 2 million Syrian refugees live in Turkey (Telegraph, August 4).