For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning. - T. S. Eliot As another year draws to an end, and with it the approaching close of my eighth decade on this journey, I know I am among the most fortunate of my fellow-travellers. For sixty years of my passage, I’ve been accompanied by the wonderful young woman I first met when she was but sixteen. She is young no more, of course, but as W. B. Yeats wrote in When You Are Old (almost as if he had her in mind)--- How many loved your moments of glad grace, And loved your beauty with love false or true, But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, And loved the sorrows of your changing face. I still do. Also with me for fifty-plus years of my journey have been the two magnificent daughters who have graced their mother and me with their love, their friendship---and increasingly now, their protection against the failings of age. When they were little, we made a pact to hug them close for as long as we could, then let them go when time dictated. As you might expect, the hugging was easy; the letting-go was hard. But it has been written that when we love someone, we should set them free, and if they come back, then their love is ours forever. That has certainly been the case for us, for which I’m eternally grateful. Our girls are women now, but as I’ve often told them, although they are no longer children, their mother and I will never stop being parents. In due time, those women brought two wonderful men into our lives, and with them produced five wonderful babies of their own---four granddaughters and a grandson for us. It was as if the cycle started up again, but with my wife and I one step removed this time---loving them, wishing the best for them, but somewhat distant from the immediacy of their lives. We strive to remain relevant, of course, and they, in return, take pains to make it so. Kahlil Gibran wrote of that in his meditation, On Children--- You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. And in that last line lies the very essence of the joy and sadness, both, that are implicit in our lifelong journey. Things begin. Things end. Things begin anew. Or so it has always been for me, and will be for some time to come, I fervently hope. But there will eventually come a moment, I know, when no next beginning will follow the final end. Despite my reluctance to face that day, I do not fear it. My approach to its inevitability is summed up in this final stanza from one of my own poems, I Haven’t the Time--- I haven’t the time for anger or rancor, or grumbling, self-pity, or frown. Life’s about living, getting and giving full measure before it winds down. When that day is nigh, as ‘twill be by and by, I hope it will be widely said, That as man and boy, I strove for the joy of living until I was dead. My closest companions along the way have certainly brought that hope closer to reality than it might otherwise have been. To paraphrase the late Queen Elizabeth II, my dear family have been my strength and stay the entire way. As we enter into 2023, I hope for all of you who read these posts that you will feel as blessed as I, and that the ending of this old year, no matter its triumphs or tragedies, will be a new and happy beginning for you. To make an end is to make a beginning. Happy New Year!
Monthly Archives: December 2022
The Reasons For the Season
It’s hard to believe, but this soon-to-be-upon-us Christmas will be the eightieth time I’ve celebrated the festive season with family. I have no memory of the first five or six such occasions, and most of those that came after are a hodge-podge of recollections jumbled together across the years.
Although my extended family was a blend of Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Presbyterian church-goers, Christ was never the centre of our celebrations back then; family was always at the centre. As a youngster, I was taught all about the virgin birth—the trek to Bethlehem, the sojourn in the stable, the babe in the manger, the shepherds and wise men who visited the creche—but the visitor I most looked forward to every year was Santa Claus.
It may amuse you to know that I still believe in the spirit of Santa, that jolly, old elf who freely gives us presents while taking nothing in return (save, perhaps, for cookies and milk). I still hang up my stocking every Christmas Eve.
It may surprise you to learn that I still believe in the teachings of the Christ-child, too, despite the fact my knowledge of them springs from English translations of the writings of men (no women, alas), who told their tales in Hebrew and Greek long after the storied crucifixion.
It seems to me those teachings can be crystallized in two succinct statements attributed to Jesus: Love one another. Treat everyone else as you would like to be treated. There are world-religions other than Christianity that preach similar sentiments, of course, but I fear I know less about them than I’d like. Nevertheless, I dream sometimes of what our world might be like today if all of us, regardless of creed, could adhere to those two maxims, person-to-person, nation-to-nation.
Despite my belief in his teachings, I confess I cannot be sure Christ was the divine son of the god to whom we attribute our creation—that beneficent father-figure who reigns over us from on high, portrayed so majestically in magnificent works of art over the centuries. I simply don’t know if Christ really turned water into wine, raised Lazarus back to life, rose again from the dead, or will return someday in rapture and glory. I was taught these things, never with any proof offered, though—because true faith requires no absolute proof. Faith and proof are each other’s antithesis. But no matter; whether one believes Christ was divine or not, the truth of his teachings shines through for me.
It pains me when I hear so-called Christians take those teachings, impart their own twist to them, and then insist that everyone else adhere to their interpretation. I’ve read the entire Bible, some sections repeatedly, and I’ve yet to find the condemnation purported to come from Christ’s lips that is used by judgmental Christian proselytizers to justify the stances they spew forth on such issues as marriage equality, abortion, feminism, and science education, to name a few. The Christ I know loves everyone.
Nevertheless, despite my difference of opinion with such folk, I respect their right to believe as they do—so long as they do not seek to interfere with my right to do the same. Christ, it seems to me, invited people to accept his teachings; he did not force them. It is wise, I think, to be wary of those who use Christ’s teachings to further their own ends, to rend us asunder.
Lest I appear to be doing that here, let me clarify that I am not; I am simply riffing on my understanding of the meanings of Christmas. Both my continuing belief in a Santa Claus, and my endorsement of Christ’s two great maxims, are important aspects of the celebration for me. But I readily acknowledge that others may feel differently. I begrudge no one their right to hold and profess their own beliefs, even to disregard mine, and I do not seek to impose mine on anyone.
In addition to the influences of Santa and Jesus on my understanding of Christmas, there are others whose interpretations reflect my own. For example, in his famous story, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens described the occasion thusly—a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.
Kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant, open hearts—these words echo the intent of Christ’s teachings, do they not? It’s a pity such sentiments surface so infrequently in our interactions these days, except for a brief time at Christmas.
Another artist, Elvis Presley, released a song in 1966, written by his friend Red West, whose lyrics included this plaintive call—
Oh, why can’t every day be like Christmas?
Why can’t that feeling go on endlessly?
For if everyday could be just like Christmas,
What a wonderful world this would be.
Anyway, buoyed in the spirit of Christmas, I’m looking forward to my eightieth celebration with renewed hope that the true reasons for the season will once again manifest themselves—and, I fervently wish, pervade the new year to come. Surely then, we would find the way, know the truth, and approach the life to which we aspire.
A wonderful world it would be, indeed!