Friday, December 9, 2011

And the Shelf He Rode In On (Part III)

In the Bleak Midwinter - Beth Whitney (mp3)
Where Are You Christmas? - Faith Hill (mp3)

Part One -- "The Origin of Laura Jane," wherein I mention our transgendered hero/heroine, Nicole Kidman, late night elf pornography, and Gmail

Part Two - "Bad Dad," wherein I experience the stages of grief, emotionally abuse my daughter, and am reminded why the Christmas season is so despicable

My second daughter continues to write to Laura Jane, our transgendered Elf on the Shelf and the ever-present reminder of a failure of my fatherhood.

She wrote that damn elf five times in November, each time desperately (but as patiently as her little heart would allow) anticipating Laura Jane’s response. My eldest hasn’t mentioned Laura Jane. We’re fairly certain she’s aware that the elf has no clothes, so to speak, and she's hinted as much, but we can’t be sure, and there’s no easy way to ask that question without giving it away.

And this story, split into three lengthy parts, sums up why I tend to despise “special” days, most especially Christmastime. We create these days where things have to be more. They have to be bigger, and better, and greater, and more important. Why? Because people need bigger, and better, and greater, and more important. Because normal isn't good enough.

This is proof that too many people allow their everyday to slip into something bad, something negative and undesirable. They then look to Special Days to rescue them from their monotony and boredom. It's like the abusive spouse who justifies his daily cruelties by being super-sweet on birthdays and anniversaries. I prefer trying, sometimes feebly, to value each day and to not save up my happy karma for Special Days, but rather to celebrate my joys whenever I can find them.

Wednesday, Bob wrote about being sick of winning. But isn’t Christmas, like, the World Heavyweight Champion of Days? Haven't we manufactured Christmas into nothing more than winning? Our entire fucking economy depends on it, fer cryin' out loud. Families depend on it to spend time together, to invest in one another, to think of one another first for a change. Moms (and some dads) need it to get out of the house at midnight on Thanksgiving as some sad proof that they must really really love their families.*

[* -- On the day after Thanksgiving, one of my friends had written on Facebook, “I’m in Target at 3:42 a.m. I can’t believe HOW MUCH I LOVE MY CHILDREN!” If you aren’t bothered by this leap in logic, I pity you. Fortunately for him, some 30 people responded that they, too, were out and about, and that they, too, desperately loved their children enough to invest in Black Friday.]

Christmas has become some maniacal race. It’s become competitive. It's become about winning.

How we got from the story of a family who couldn’t afford a room in an inn and had to sleep in a barn, to elves on shelves made in China but born in the North Pole and who mess up houses and hide and write emails that make children cry is truly beyond my grasp, but almost nothing about this holiday makes me feel one bit more religious.

My goal isn't to sap your joy, dear reader. If you find Christmas in Walmart, bully for you. I'm actually a bit jealous.

For me, however, the only times in this month-long stretch when I feel closer to God, or like a somewhat better version of myself, is at the dinner table with my family and in church singing hymns... and neither of these are seasonal.

And then, finally, at 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve, we get our service when I finally get the chance to feel undistracted, undiluted joy. Our standing room only church of people raise candlelights above their heads as they sing “Silent Night.”

That service is the very opposite of Black Friday. We pause. We reflect. We listen. And we do it all together in the middle of the night as a way of finally -- one hour before the Most Important Day of the Year -- clarifying for ourselves what the whole damn day is really supposed to inspire in the first place.

Not iPads, not a Lexus in the driveway, and not something from Jared.
Families. Huddled together.
The acknowledgement of a world in desperate need of hope and meaning.
A communal feeling of love surging through people like a strong gust of wind, carried through them from the notes of a pipe organ or a hammer dulcimer or the sound of a choir.

Christmas finally arrives, deux ex machina, and rescues us from the previous 30 days of misguided obsessions and pepper-spraying our fellow consumers. And nothing, no matter how much bile and bitterness and anger they invoke in me leading up to that evening, can shake the power of the Day itself. It's bigger than we are, and we can't ever completely screw it up.

For that, I am eternally thankful.

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