I’ve been thinking recently about necessities fulfilled without human notice—the season change, the hibernation of plants, the sleepy obedience of animals, the shifts in daylight and night and all the planet’s other restless but essential motions. Other animals do what nature requires much more than we do. We set ourselves apart and operate as if noticing were a burden.
Truthfully, we follow necessity too. The tides of sleeping and waking pull us daily. We sense the shifts of clouds overhead as they extinguish the gentle warmth sun lends a cold day. We smell cooking when the wind wheels to a new direction, and some deep hunger stirs, bigger than the promise of food. We hear a bird cry in the cold and can’t help feeling how out of place its solitary song appears, how strange we feel in empathy.
But maybe I’m speaking for myself. A few weeks ago, some beloved readers commented on the despair they hear in me, the “vague loneliness” of “some melancholia or something heavy-pressing on the soul.” I try to laugh too (in my muted, sardonic way), but I suppose they’re right. It’s in the cadence of my posts, in my quiet enthusiasms and fitful peevishness, in stoic descriptions of shadow and weak sun. I guess this time of year stretches me out, attenuates pleasures I know I ought to appreciate more.
Which makes it important to compose what I hoped to today—a Christmas message. You see, I am appreciative. My faith in humanity wavers, days seldom deliver the joy I hope, and the frictions of existence chafe me endlessly. Still, I care about you. It will sound silly—corny even—to say so, but I never greet another person without real warmth. Though I can’t always show it, meeting another mind is such consolation and relief to me. When someone is open to talk, I’m equally open, and I love to hear a student’s latest lament about an unfair question or quiz, a cabby’s story of his biggest fare, a colleague’s memory of a disappointing fourth birthday, or a stranger’s gratitude when I give him the dollar he asks. And, though I sometimes have to withdraw from the world to meet it again, I don’t really like being alone, either in my thoughts or in my affections.
I’m especially appreciative of family—extended and nuclear—that accepts me as I am and doesn’t ask me to pretend to more. They forgive me when I need it and prod me when I need it and reassure me when I need it and offer me solace when I need it. They keep me, in the absolute sense of that word—to hold, protect, preserve, and cherish. And I try to keep them as well… partly by keeping Christmas.
Christmas doesn’t mean anything to some people and everything to others, but it’s just a day. The frontier of dawn races around the planet as it always does. People wake to jobs and responsibilities, to troubles, to tiny disasters and private triumphs and loss and love. The dishes shuffle. Mouths and minds fill with words and empty again. Eyes drift over the familiar and unfamiliar, storing it all.
But, even if you regard Christmas as the sorriest excuse for materialism and an emblem of Christian myopia, indulge me at least this Christmas message. I meet you today with peace and love. I’m grateful for you. And I mean to appreciate the world more.