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.
“Independent bookstores are more than the sum of their books,” says Betsy Burton, cofounder of the King’s English bookstore in Salt Lake City and president of the American Booksellers Association. Independent bookstores are “safe havens, centers of community where people go to see friends and neighbors—or strangers who are interesting to meet and talk to—but they’re also refuges populated by booksellers who are not just interesting, and interested, but empathetic.” Burton recalls the morning of 9/11 when her bookstore was mobbed by people not buying books but looking for a place of support, empathy, and community. Independent bookstores, says Burton, are more inclusive than churches, more communal than cultural events, and more intimate than bars (Publishers Weekly, July 15).