I was recently reading James Woods’ marvelous story about his late mother. It’s a Personal History column in the New Yorker, titled “The Teacher.”
He is describing her death, which was what people sometimes call a good death, and his peace with it (and her, despite her imperfections and the challenges her nature gave him as a son — as all parents give their children; parenthood is a job no one does perfectly, but many people do well, and many more people try, with sincerity and love, to do well — and so, as we age, we too become more and more able to love, forgive, and understand them and their gifts to us and others).
This is akin to my feelings of tenderness, respect, and gladness for my Christian friends around this time of year.
It must be said that almost all of my friends who happen to be Christians are much more practice-what-they-believe and stay-in-inner-dialogue-with-God-as-they-understand-Him than go-to-church-and-follow-the-rules-and-decry-anyone-who-doesn’t. Many are social justice activists, in the feed-the-hungry line, the “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me.’ That kind of Christian (I know similar Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists — it seems to me it is not the religion as such, but the way individuals practice it, which part of the scripture most resounds in their hearts… All sacred literature, it seems to me, has transcendent, soaring portions, and some portions that are just downright lunatic; how could it be otherwise, since fallible human beings put whatever was divine into words? But I digress).
So. This time of year, I’m especially glad for my Christian friends: glad that they believe as they do, that they are this kind of Christian; glad that they celebrate the birth of Jesus on a deep and thoughtful level.
Look, over the years I’ve grinched plenty, and justifiably, about Christmas. I’m absolutely not a Christian, and it takes everything I have not to roll my eyes or start screaming when I get proselytized or told “the good news” for the thousandth time (because how could it be “news” to me when I have lived for over sixty years in a country where Christianity is far and away the majority religion? And — though many are surprised by this — I know the Bible fairly well and have read it many times, so whatever it is, it is not “news” to me).
And yes, as an environmentalist I loathe the orgy of consumerism.
And as someone who has lost much of my family and many beloved friends to death, and has a at least one dangerous-crazy relative, I have a big problem with the often cruelly-forced family sentimentality that is Christmas as practiced in the U.S.
And it is true I am allergic to Christmas music everywhere (feels like I am being force-fed, shoved down my throat and the throats of all non-Christians — I actually carry earplugs in my purse for those times in November-December when I go to a WalMart, Rite Aid, or the beauty salon). Okay, I admit this last (the ear plugs) may be goofy enough to border on the… extreme. Just think of it as the spiritual and auditory equivalent of needing to be gluten-free.
Even many of my Christian pals, bless them, wince at some of these same things (like the rampant consumerism), and are kind enough to respect where I’m coming from. Some do not laugh with me, but at me, and because we love and understand each other, I’m down with that. And, most say, in one way or another, “But that’s not the spirit of Christmas.”