December and Our Discontent - An Allusion and Three Quotes
“So I guess this is where I tell you what I learned - my conclusion, right? Well, my conclusion is: Hate is baggage. Life’s too short to be pissed off all the time. It’s just not worth it. Derek says it’s always good to end a paper with a quote. He says someone else has already said it best. So if you can’t top it, steal from them and go out strong. So I picked a guy I thought you’d like...”
My challenge entry is composed almost entirely of quotes from others who have said it better than I could. That first one is from the end of the disturbing 1998 film exploring white supremacy in America, American History X (Directed by Tony Kaye and starring Edward Norton). The words are spoken by the character, and narrator, Danny Vinyard. I’ll complete that quote in a minute, but here is the best summary in song of my feelings about the Christmas Holiday - thank you, Jackson Browne for releasing this in 1991, on your album with the Chieftains - The Bells of Dublin.
The Rebel Jesus
All the streets are filled with laughter and light
And the music of the season
And the merchants’ windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
As the sky darkens and freezes
Will be gathering around their hearths and tables
Giving thanks for God’s graces
And the birth of the rebel Jesus
They call him by the “Prince Of Peace”
And they call him by “The Saviour”
And they pray to him upon the sea
And in every bold endeavour
And they fill his churches with their pride and gold
As their faith in him increases
But they’ve turned the nature that I worship in
From a temple to a robber’s den
In the words of the rebel Jesus
We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if anyone of us should interfere
In the business of why there are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus
But pardon me if I have seemed
To take the tone of judgement
For I’ve no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In a life of hardship and of earthly toil
There’s a need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure and I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus
If cinema and song aren’t your genres, here’s my favorite for December from the world of non-fiction - this is from Martin Luther King Jr’s last book, written in 1967, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?
“The assistant director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, Hyman Bookbinder, in a frank statement on December 29, 1966, declared that the long-range costs of adequately implementing programs to fight poverty, ignorance and slums will reach one trillion dollars. He was not awed or dismayed by this prospect but instead pointed out that the growth of the gross national product during the same period makes this expenditure comfortably possible. It is, he said, as simple as this: ‘The poor can stop being poor if the rich are willing to become even richer at a slower rate.’ Furthermore, he predicted that unless a ‘substantial sacrifice is made by the American people,’ the nation can expect further deterioration of the cities, increased antagonisms between races and continued disorders in the streets. He asserted that people are not informed enough to give adequate support to antipoverty programs, and he leveled a share of the blame at the government because it ‘must do more to get people to understand the size of the problem.’”
Danny Vinyard, same movie, same breath as the earlier quote I used from his character, continues with a paraphrase of the words of Abraham Lincoln, from Lincoln’s first inaugural address in 1861:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory... will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Putting quote in quote may never lead us to put hand in hand, but then again, it might.
I like to remind my Christian friends that in their tradition Hope and Joy arrived as an infant needing care and feeding - I think that’s a pretty accurate metaphor about hope and joy in general.
Here’s to us, figuring it out, together. The nights are already getting shorter, and the days are longer and brighter.
I will not deny it - I knew it was love when she finished her fries, licked her fingers, and said, “My safe word is Miracle Whip - are you getting the check, or am I?”
Twenty years later, we snuggle and laugh as the outtakes of Melissa McCarthy and her husband roll during the credits of “Bridesmaids.” I’m not saying I’m into food sex all that much, but when I say, “Make me a sandwhich, please.” my wife sternly, gleefully, takes my hand - and she leads me to the bedroom, not the kitchen.
Returning My Neighbor’s Saw*
“Would you jump from a perfectly good bridge,
just because your friends are?”
If the bridge is in Rome, my friends being Roman, I do what they do.
If the bridge is on the highway,
the majority of drivers plunging distractedly on,
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
I keep up,
go with the flow.
If I can’t beat them, I join them.
I don’t march to the beat of a different drummer;
I fall in with the rest of the troops.
I follow the leader.
I follow, or I get out of the way;
on a bridge, the result is the same.
If it were not my friends on the bridge, but my boss,
and my boss said “jump”
that’s what I’d do.
I never walk alone.
There’s safety in numbers;
It’s still a democracy, isn’t it?
If fifty one percent are in favor of bridge jumping,
as an upstanding citizen at home, not an assimilationist in Rome,
I cast my self in with the majority.
Keeping up with the Joneses
does a fine job of keeping our neighborhood white-washed
If it’s fashionable, up-to-the-minute,
I tend toward the trend, and tip myself over the cutting edge.
Would I jump from a perfectly good bridge,
just because my friends are?
I don’t want to make waves.
* saw (sô) n. A familiar saying, especially one that has become trite through repetition.
Walk the Dog
My dog is a champion,
A house horse, a friend,
But never forget,
She’s got needs at both ends.
Disposal of garbage,
A bottomless pit,
She vacuums her bowl,
’til it’s time for her shift.
The four legged factory,
of chocolate tooth paste,
This dump truck is famous,
For hauling out waste,
She’s taking on water!
She’s filling the bilge!
She’s half the rain cycle
When walking uphill.
She’s rising tide water,
A flood in the fields!
Three tanker class vessels?
She triples that yield!
The hydrant inspector,
the nose with the news,
the top seeded player,
for taking a snooze.
She listens with hammocks,
A foghorn she howls,
She treads on four footstools,
A landslide she growls.
I don’t fear late waking,
’cause she’s my alarm,
Night walks I’m not quaking,
my private gendarme.
My personal trainer
I’ll never get fat,
I’d stay to say more,
But we’re chasing a cat!
In Through the Eye
I remember the morning my whole life changed for the better. I never would have heard her if circumstances hadn't forced a change.
My wife has both hands on her coffee mug, bare feet on the seat, knees tucked up to her chin, elbows holding them in, and the steam rises under her nose on the cool April air.
“This really is heaven, having you here.” The way she says it, it’s cute, it’s playfully sardonic but it’s sincere.
My husband’s face ― until recently, I wouldn’t see his face in the morning until he’d finished the financial section ― is weary, and handsome. His coffee is on the glass table, his fingers wrap the forward edges on the arms of his deck chair, but his grip is not as tight as it was yesterday.
“Lovely woman, there is no place I’d rather be.” The way he says it, I know it’s a bit more true than before, but not yet entirely. He wants it to be true. This is how it is with grief; with loss.
She knows I’m finished. She knows I know she knows I’m finished. And yet here she is, flirting with me at 6 o’clock in the morning like I’m the prom king, or the quarterback. I did so well, for so long, but no one’s perfect.
“Matthew, I’m not 19 anymore and you’re not 21. I have loved you for a very long time, and supported you while you did what you felt you had to do, both for me, and for you. I think you’d agree, it’s been good, but it hasn’t been heaven.” How is it that this woman can scold me, and make me feel known and loved at exactly the same time?
He looks away from the porch, into the distance, smirks just a bit, and I know he’s thinking of that phrase he got from his friend’s Grandfather so many years ago, “Any man who thinks he’s smarter than his wife, has a very smart wife.” He leans forward, and his eyes drop to the edge of the porch, then to his hands, now pressed palm to palm between his knees.
“I didn’t intend to lose it, honey. It all happened so fast. I’m sorry.” He says this to me, but he’s apologizing to himself.
“The only thing that would make me happier, would be if you told me you’d sold it all and given every cent of the money to the poor. Come with me. I want to go for a walk.”
My hand, emptied of everything I’ve tried to hold onto for my entire life, feels full and overflowing when her fingers slip together with mine.
“This really is it, isn’t it? It’s always been right here, this easy. This is heaven.” At these words, she turns to look at me. Her features are soft, her eyes are glistening. She’s smiling, and nodding, and giggling. What is this that she's feeling? What have I said? And then I know. She’s proud of me. So overjoyed and proud… of me. She kisses my cheek and pulls herself close to my arm as we walk. “Welcome home.”
She says it again, “Welcome home.”