Saturday, December 31, 2005


Christmas? It’s kid stuff, and I ignore it as much as possible. I do enjoy the pretty lights, the festoonations, the smell of pine and cinnamon. It’s fine for kids – a necessary thing, almost, given the human desire to celebrate. When my boy was little, we did all that, although I relied more on extended family for anything elaborate. But never never never did I lie about Santa. No, Virginia, there is no Santa Christ, no Jesus Claus. Because more important than the happy – even joyful – pretense or fantasy of the jolly old elf, is to be trustworthy with those who depend on you. Respect is earned, and it is lost through deceit – well-meaning or no. My son knew he could trust me. This is worth infinitely more to me than all the glinting smiles of Christmas morning – which, of course, he had as well.

When this comes up in conversation, I am generally misunderstood. I’ve been clear, and won’t repeat myself … much. People seem to think I deprive children of something good and healthy. They seem actually angry, sometimes, even offended. As for that, I know of worse things then telling children a necessary truth. So you go around telling other people’s kids there is no Santa? You pig! But I’ve never done that. Oh, so Mr. Honesty saves his vast integrity for only his own precious family. No, I tell the truth. Ha! Contradicting yourself! Not so self-righteous now, are you, “mate.” And I, wearing a small, benign smile, gently explain: If a little child asks me if there is a Santa (and, oddly, this has happened some number of times), I reply that I, personally, do not believe in Santa -- I believe in God, but not in Santa. Well my mommy says there is a Santa. And I’m sure she loves you very much.

I’m an absolute kind of guy – big surprise. I like clarity, where it can be found. Ambiguity? It’s necessary, and therefore unavoidable, sometimes. But far too much of it is just laziness and sloppiness. It has to do with what is genuinely unknowable, and what is unknown through ignorance. In matters of fact, absolutes are good. In matters of opinion, shades of gray.

Human nature is unperfectible. One of the benefits of this is that it allows for so much diversity of personality – a polymorphism of temperament. And along the wide continuum of individuality, there is ample room for cordial disagreement. I was once in a situation where I was required to confront someone that I had always disliked. I disliked him, I later realized, because he reminded me of someone else that I disliked. (I feel an endless loop coming on … must … break … free!) And just as the moment came where I was going to speak some brutal truths, I was filled with tenderness for him – compassion and something like love. On a continuum that extends in every direction, we can find common ground with anyone. Even if that ground is our own flawed nature.

I understand racism. I understand murder. I understand things that are worse – I refrain from the utterance – it looked too ugly on the page. It’s easy: they’ve given themselves permission to do such things. It’s like starting to smoke. It starts with an idea, an attraction, a temptation, a rationalization, an experiment, and it grows into a habit. And nothing is more fragile then sexuality – this energy, this instinct is so easily diverted onto what is inappropriate – shoes, and leather, and anything else one might imagine.

So, being an absolute kind of guy has its blessings. I do not drink, at all. Or smoke, or use drugs. Or tell lies. Or betray. I’m not better than someone else because of this – not better in my nature. My conduct is better, as a Pharisee would count it, but that’s not saying a lot. That I bind myself in rigidity may not even be a good thing. I don’t care. I’d rather act rightly and have a crappy heart, than act wrongly and have a crappy heart. And whether or not my heart is crappy is no one else’s proper concern.

That I don’t care about Christmas, or New Years, or birthdays -- this makes me a peculiar sort of fellow. But the smallness of heart that would judge me for this is more severe than the constriction of my own odd character. It’s a big world, teeming with queer manifestations. There’s room in it for me.

What, then? Consider the prodigal son’s stay-at-home brother – poor guy, right? In from toiling in the fields to find a celebration for his moron brother – who gets a fancy ring! – and a fat calf! But the faithful son gets everything the father has – the other had received his share, and squandered it. Hmm. The good son wanted a party too, and was jealous. As to which is worse, jealousy or whoring, I won’t venture an opinion. But we know who ends up better off. My point? I’m neither of these sons, and neither are you. If we fall closer to one or the other on the continuum, so be it. One son, faithful, wanted a party and didn’t get it. I don’t want a party. One son lived with pigs and returned. I’ve lived with pigs, and part of my heart still does. In this parable, the point isn’t faith, it’s faithfulness.

In the parable of our lives, the point is not about the observance of days. It’s not about opinions of actions. It’s about what we have no business judging. Faithfulness is what we do. What is faith? It’s what my son can have in me, because I never never never lied to him.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jack -- Great post! And it reminds me of one my husband wrote. The two of you, although distinct (and very good!) in your writing styles, certainly carry some almost exacting thoughts. After the "dried sawdust and plaster" are brushed off, take a look at this link:
The "Claus" Clause