Families, Holidays, and Chaos

§  In this perhaps the most divisive of years in America since our Civil War, I turn again to this essay, originally posted in 2017, and its theme of tolerance, kindness and courtesy–for what better behavior can we ever display?  §

Several years ago I stumbled across Dar William’s humorous and touching holiday song, “The Christians and the Pagans”. It was a good-natured glimpse into the utter chaos experienced by a  family of very dissimilar individuals, all trying to navigate their way through the minefield of a Christmas dinner without triggering nuclear meltdown.

I found it so delightful and thought-provoking that I forwarded the YouTube video link to most of my contacts. A few of them had encountered the song previously, but were glad to enjoy it again.  To others, as it had been to me, it was a revelation: a couple of laugh-out-loud verses woven into an authentic description of the bedlam relatives endure as they try to practice acceptance and caring for the sake of family at the holidays.

But, to my dismay, a couple of my contacts found the song very offensive. To say that I was bewildered at their reaction is an understatement.  This was a song about tolerance—about the triumph of love over personal differences—about the curiosity of children, as well as their inability to lie for the sake of tact (“The Emperor has no clothes!”)—about finding common ground in the midst of seeming contradictions.

Eventually it became clear to me that, for those who found the song distasteful, their rejection of it lay in the very fact that the song was, indeed, about tolerance: about a Christian family struggling to accept and love their non-Christian and unconventional relatives (it is implied, though never outright stated in the lyrics, that the young niece is in a lesbian partnership) at Christmastime. To some of my acquaintances, this concept—that Christians would willingly welcome the company of their non-Christian relatives at Christmas—was anathema.

It is a mindset that I cannot even begin to comprehend. I glory in the traditions of other cultures, so many of which celebrate a religious or secular holiday near the winter solstice.  Soyaluna, Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Solstice, The Return of the Wandering Goddess…to me, they are all beautiful traditions, evocative of the universality of the human spirit reaching out to the Divine.  To reject loved ones because they have chosen a different faith (or even no faith at all) is, to my way of thinking, so far from the genuine practice of Christianity, as I understand it, that it boggles the mind.

I was simply stunned to learn that some of my Christian acquaintances thought that their non-Christian counterparts would be encouraged to “find Jesus” if they were cast out and treated as lepers; that they believed children should be shielded from the spiritual differences of those they encounter, instead of simply receiving an explanation as to why the family believes other faiths to be in error. I could not comprehend their feeling that families should not at least try to join together in love and caring at the holidays, no matter what their dissimilarities.

It’s always seemed to me that the surest way to draw others into one’s own belief system is to demonstrate, by the very life one lives, that it is a faith worth emulating. How, I found myself asking, how could shunning loved ones, subjecting them to rejection and disgust and dislike—how could that in any way inspire them to accept the faith of those who cast them out?  Wouldn’t such behavior just convince them that their own spiritual path was the more noble choice?

In a question between my own belief system of that of others, I will always choose the path of learning; never relying on rumor or medieval bad press or intentional misinformation, but seeking to know the genuine principles surrounding a belief system (or even atheism) in order to find the thread of commonality woven into all that is the human spirit.

But, no matter what they do or do not believe, all those who demonstrate love, acceptance, kindness, courtesy and tolerance will always be welcomed to a seat at my holiday table.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Apples of Gold”, which may be found in the Archives dated November 20, 2019.

The Miracle on Route 16

She is weeping.

Uncomfortable, I drop my gaze, fiddle with the fastenings on my purse, and brush unnecessarily at a speck of lint on my coat, before sneaking a glance from beneath lowered lashes to confirm what I’ve already seen.

The Invisible Woman, I think of her. She’s ridden Bus 16 faithfully for months now, boarding  from the tumultuous Market Street stop.  Evenings past counting,  I’ve glanced out of the smeary bus window to see her distancing herself from the bustle and craziness of the Market shelter.  She wears an invisible force field, I think; a Romulan cloaking shield, standing there amid the commotion as though she is completely alone.

Perhaps she is.

Like most of us as we board, she scans the bus for the rare empty seat; frustrated at that, she tries to find a forward-facing seat. But—also like most of us riding this substandard bus always assigned to our low-ridership route—she is usually forced to clamber awkwardly up the mid-aisle steps and take a place in the uncomfortable sideways seats.  Consequently, I’ve sat facing her for many evenings now.

Her invisible armor does not dissipate once she is seated. Nondescript in a worn beige coat, she sits staring into a distance that is obviously inward.  She does not speak, nor smile—not even the casual “bus buddies” smile we regular riders toss so carelessly  to one another.  She sits, alone, quite alone and silent, in our midst on this crowded vehicle.

But tonight she is weeping. At first I think her eyes are merely watering; it is, after all, Indiana in allergy season.  But the initial brightness is not blinked away, and with slow momentum, the gathering tears skim down the curve each cheek.  She tries not to be noticed.  She does not sob. She blinks hard, and surreptiously lifts a hand to dash at the moisture sliding beneath her chin.  But it is hopeless.  The tears tumble faster and faster; her pale face crumples more and more.

And then the miracle happens.

The comfortably-upholstered, pleasant-faced black woman seated beside me looks—really looks—at the Invisible Woman.   Wordlessly, she rustles through her purse, and pulls out a tissue.  Leaning across the aisle, she hands it to the Invisible Woman, who stares at the blue paper Kleenex as if it’s something she’s never seen before.  Kindly Black Lady firmly pats the hand into which she’s tucked the tissue and says, “Whatever it is, it’s all right, baby.  This too, shall pass, you know.  I’m saying a prayer for you right now.   And, baby, when LaDonna prays, God listens.”

Lady LaDonna’s stop is coming up. She gathers up her handbag and stands.  But before she moves up the aisle, she nods forcefully at the Invisible Woman.  She is praying.  God is listening.

Invisible Woman dabs at her eyes. Tears continue to fall, but, for just one moment, her wary armor slips.  She smiles—tries to smile, faintly, tremulously—at Lady LaDonna’s retreating back.  Then her look slides inward again, to stare into nothingness.  But she clasps the crumpled tissue carefully in one hand, holding it across her heart like a shield.