If Vietnam, with its baffling, Venus-flytrap landscape, is the perfect dramatic background for an existential drama, the Gulf War would appear to be an ideal setting for an existential comedy: so many servicemen all suited up but with nowhere to go and nothing to do. That’s how David O. Russell’s great 1999 film Three Kings began.
When I was young, Christmas wasn’t very much— a balsam culled from the edge of a field, colored balls in a tattered box, durable strings of colored lights, glorious music in local churches, long, slow winter hours.
Now that I am four fifths old, Christmas is so very much, so bought and sold in Christian bulk, carols slammed down secular streets— bad or worse in slipshod churches. What sea or landfill’s deep enough to hold the glitter-smash of all these broken ornaments?
. . . Who are you again?
I was a wise man, literate in stars.
Ancient and uneasy in America, wrapped in swaddling robes, wheel-chaired, parked beneath denatured swags of falsely berried nevergreen, I miss austerity. I miss desert travel.
I miss the naive Christmases when, four fifths young in my frugal father’s house, I wrote my hopes on a battered desk in a shadowy hall upstairs— the ceiling high and cold with draft on dragging winter evenings when there was no entertainment but my mind unentertained, yet knowledge of approaching holiday. Once I dreamed that I worked all night, forgetting— then woke in the downstairs room as warm as womb: the tree of light.
But most of all, I miss how every modest Christmas morning, disappointment in the presents faded quietly and wisely, gone by breakfast even for us children.
. . . but—who are you again?
Melchior, come back in another searching time.
Searching for what?
The light from the star that just now is arriving.
The astrologer? One of the three? Why here?
Too much room at the Christian Inn. And who would look for a Magus here among this wreckage of untreasured age and unmined memory? Herod is alive and well and killing babes for no reason at all. This is the manger of 2005 and the hay is eating the oxen.
I do not understand you.
What is it in this saturated, satiated anti-Midas age of yours that everything you touch, once gold, turns lead! Even the holy babe we found is new-born, yes! again this year, but four fifths dead.
Wait! Don’t wheel away—! Listen— Listen. I’ll tell you what I still can see on late-in-Advent evenings in my clearest memory: the true Nativity– my faithful father’s glowing tree reflected in the tall black window panes of living room, the colored lights imposed on bare and frozen trees outside, and that was it—the lead-to-golden bough, like Gabriel’s who imposed on Mary’s how.
Like Christmas then on Christmas now.
Believe I do reject the artificial tree and heart of modern Christmas “season”—
Are there any more like you?
Two or three in beds and halls and cattle stalls on every floor.
Will you take back one Christmas night, one Christmas morning, only, for your use? Will you refuse cartoonish “power” pointed songs of praise (follow the bouncing ball) projected in what used to be a sacred space, and wait for writing by the hand on temple wall Can we agree?
Will you come with me? Though I seem to nod in this cushioned chair in the cushioned space of used-to-mean, let word go forth in Herod’s time again: we are at odds with the even powers and will report to no one what we’ve seen.
We’ll secret the strains of ancient songs of love bereft and hope long gone, safe in heart, secure in mind, singing the news between mourn and morn: —for two or three of us old kings he is still born.
In the movies, romances fail for reasons of class, money, scandal, race, death, noble sacrifice or—more recently—fear of commitment. Shopgirl may be the first Hollywood love story in a long time to revolve around the inability to love.
No one understood my nightly need to be reassured I’d wake up again the next day. Eyes closed, I saw no sheep but the tufts of pampas grass looming silver like a solitary path. The scroll hung above me, a verse in five and seven, its flowing hand thin and illegible—I still knew it was about our life not lasting very long. How is it that adults were okay with such a prospect? In July, bamboo blades rustled against paper cranes and prayer strips; I wondered how I’d made the cut, when I wasn’t a boy my father wanted, wasn’t a koi princess my mother said would magically turn her tail into a pair of legs. I looked for the fabled rabbits on the moon, a family of them taking turns to pound rice into pearly cakes along their dark, elliptical orbit.
A copy of the Bay Psalm Book, the first book published in America, will be auctioned off by Sotheby’s and is expected to bring between $15 and $30 million, making it the most expensive book ever sold. One of two copies owned by Old South Church in Boston, it is one of only 11 remaining copies published. The proceeds will be used to help replenish Old South’s endowment once $7 million of it is used for deferred maintenance. The church historian resigned over the congregation’s decision to sell one of its treasures, but the rest of the congregation overwhelmingly supported the decision (New York Times, November 15).