If you want to know America, you should come at Christmas. Friendly and presumptive, open yet closed, demonstrably extravagant, yet charitable. Plenty of us don’t even celebrate it, although you would hardly know this from the panic in the air today. I remember, as a child, realizing that people could die on Christmas. Bad things could still happen. I don’t remember losing my belief in Santa, but I do remember my sudden understanding that Christmas was not magic, not like that.
I went to the art museum this week and the Bodhisattva sculpture looked at me. We have this piecemeal fake Buddhist temple at the museum, reconstructed for our viewing pleasure in the 1930s. It is the quietest room in the place. A Bodhisattva is a Buddhist who has taken a vow to be the first one in an oxygen mask, and the last one off the plane. Basically. I was not feeling saved. Not just then. And the eyes in that sculpture have a sharp stare.
I’ve had friends who had something awful happen around Christmas, and I watched them to keep them from jumping off a bridge. If you jump off a bridge around Christmas, some asshole is likely to jump in and save you, as we know from cinema. Last year something awful happened to me, and I kept telling myself this little joke. It helped.
I wish in the Christmas stories people argued more. Later on, Jesus argues some, thankfully, but Mary and Joseph acquiesce pretty easily. Adam argues with God, Abraham argues with God, Moses argues with God, and that is why I skip through those awful parts about the smiting. I wish Mary would argue, and Joseph would argue, and say, no, this can’t possibly be right. This can’t possibly be the right thing for you to do, Mr. Elohim, seriously. That guy– Mr. Elohim– is so unthreatened by argument that people confront Him whenever they feel like it. Far from getting them smited or dismissed, He frets right back at them and things keep going ahead, out into the wilderness, out of slavery. This is what I love most about our tradition.
I like to listen to mariachi on the fourth of July. I have a rebellious nature. Didn’t a huge chunk of America start off as Mexico, anyway? Today I listened to bitter Sondheim songs. To argue with Christmas. I’m not sure I agree with it, or that I’m ready to celebrate it. If this holiday is the beginning of Christianity, it is also the end of our following of Adam and Abraham and Moses, the beginning of another story, for some of us– ready or not. Oxygen masks on.