Advent: In This Age of Uncertainty…(December 25, 2008)

…I remembered a little boy I met, one who had no gifts. Actually, he was several little boys.

   He was one of the little tow-heads I watched make a fort of a lice eaten old mattress in a camper park where I took the madwoman I found beside the road one night before Thanksgiving. He was one of the six little boys from the Flats who sang in our Children's Choir this year, distracted and disheveled, half-heartedly singing so we would give him supper and flashing gang sign to the older kids in the youth group.

   He was a boy I wondered about when a well intentioned community activist asked, "Wouldn't it be terrible if it got to be Christmas and some little boy had no  gifts?" I know what she meant and the heart in her that meant it but it made me think of little boys who never have any gifts and, as a result, never seem to catch a break.

   There is an inherent sadness in humanity. We never do figure out quite how to apportion our resources; the rich do get richer and nothing ever does trickle down. At least, not anything you would want. We demand change when we see poverty but we are most concerned about our own poverty and not so much about others.

   The young come up, dreamy eyed and hopeful with idealism, like my optimistic, involved generation but before we reach middle age we are hidebound conservatives, voting to protect our children and our values and our country, right or wrong.

   It has ever been so.

   So, the Little Boy who had no gifts needed a kind of intellectual epilepsy. In his fleshly incarnation he could barely speak. In his shuddering moments, he could quote Calvin and Niebuhr and Nietzche.  He was not bipolar. No one should be offended by him, though every church has someone or several someones who take offense for others and so burnish their own sorry souls.

   Wormy and John the Policeman are real enough. I knew them, before, and wanted to tell their story. Wormy did not scar his pinkie on the barn door. I did, when I was eleven, in Joshua, Texas, and had forgotten about it until I noticed it again, forty four years later, as I started to write this story.

   I have never met Wilbur but I like him very much.

   I will be back tomorrow, I think, finishing the year with six posts, one for each of the last days of 2008, on convention political issues from the last eight years. There are a few things I wish to say, more in the form of a farewell than an apology, and then I hope to be done with all of it and live out my life in peace.

   Then again, I have tried that before and it has never turned out well. This time I think I can do it.

   Over the last decade of my life I have had the opportunity to stand in the presence of famous persons called great and watched them nod each time they heard the word. I was once a proven hero worshiper but these dear souls have cured me of any fleshly idolatry. I have found the worst of them to be liars and petty thieves and the best of them to be not much more than accomplished self-promoters. I have tried to tell their stories here before, sometimes with acidity, more often with humor, more often still with simple plain speech.

   Who am I to take on the high and the mighty? I am a sojourner on this planet, a citizen of heaven and I bow my head only to the One in whose presence I may also close my eyes without fear of  a sucker-punch.

   Today has been a worship day with my family. When the last ones drove off toward Cleburne tonight, I slipped on my new exercise clothes. Finally I have become easy to shop for on major gift-giving holidays, to the relief of all. My family get me exercise clothes, Starbucks cards and books.

   I slipped out into the dark, garbed in Nike from the skin out, IPod all full of Springsteen and Pavarotti, to catch a delicious little run. A stout breeze straight out of the South brought the good Gulf moisture, overcoming my every breath.

   The neighbors still have their holiday lights up, so the night was really quite bright. Here on my left was a house festooned in red and green, while its compatriot across the way was done in heavenly white. One dwelling featured a creche with angels and animals. The secularist two doors down had Santa in his sleigh, still wanting, one supposes, to believe there is Someone Great who watches and approves.

   My body felt heavy like the night air but strong and powerful. I whipped around our mile long blocks, keeping time in ragged breath on the runner's watch my middle son and his wife gave me. I could have gone longer, could have run on and never looked back, could have disappeared down the dark lane by us where the recession has already claimed some men's hopes. I came, black-clad and fearless, to the place where one must decide to plunge on or head home.

   It may be that I have finally reached that time in my life when plunging is no longer an attractive option. Maybe it should never have sung to me its siren song.

   I turned to home, to kith and kin, from whence and whom I strayed ten years ago. I did not look down the other way.


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