the long dark night

Twenty years ago, Mum and I went to Newgrange and saw the light shine in from the window box. Today, Dad moved into a nursing home. This year, the universe is seriously fuckin’ rubbing my face in the real meaning of Christmas.

Now you get a little of what fucked-up theology remains after a decade of intense Church damage and almost two decades of hard living in San Francisco; the tattered remnants of the beloved songs and stories of my childhood with as much of their cruelty and colonialism and cruft ripped out as is humanly possible. It took my having a child of my own twelve years ago on Christmas Day to knock it into my thick head, but the point of the tradition I was raised in is not that my people are specially special and should get to be in charge, hell to the no, fuck that shit: it is that every child is holy. Every child is a child of (for want of a better word for it) God. Every child has a star blazing over the place where she was born. Wise people follow that star to bring gifts for the child: gold, frankincense and myrrh; the gift of the world, the gift of the spirit and the gift of a mindful death.

Fall on your knees; o hear the angel voices. Because: follow that thought through to its logical conclusion. People, all people, yes, all of them, the annoying hipster dude ahead of you in line painfully screwing up his breakfast order, the pedestrians crossing the street in front of your car, your beloved, your boss, your work nemesis, your Burning Man nemesis, all your exes including THAT one, your past, present and future crushes, your kids, everyone in Syria, everyone in Tuvalu, everyone in Antarctica, everyone in Arkansas, Putin, Merkel, Cory Booker, Amy Poehler, Rachel Maddow, even Dick motherfucking Cheney, much as it pains me to admit it: they’re all holy. All sacred. All children of God. All doomed. The people you love so much you can’t bear to think about it are going to die, maybe of esophageal cancer, maybe of frontotemporal dementia. The people you’ve never met, they’re going to die too. You’re going to die.

The real meaning of Christmas? Sure, the sun’s at its lowest excursion, the molten Arctic is deep in gloom, sure, 2014 contained a metric shit-ton of absolute garbage even BEYOND the fact that my brilliant, adorable mother died during it, seriously, fuck you, year; I mean, 2014 was just an absurd load of crap, civilian planes vanishing and being shot down, incomprehensibly brutal foreign wars and bloody domestic horrors, rape and murder, the Torture Report (Cheney may be a child of God but he is nonetheless a war criminal) – what was my point? Oh, right; sure, it is the long dark night, and then some.

So why do we even bother? I think a lot of the time we don’t actually know why. We either don’t think about it at all, if we are sane and well-adjusted (I’ve heard tell of such), or if we’re the kind of weirdo that does think about it (I know I am but what are you) we puzzle away at it for year after weary year and never really get any closer to an answer. We just do, bother that is, and terrible as it seems sometimes, unbearable, unfeasible; gradually over time, more is revealed; tiny pleasures, like cups of tea and naps, or huge, terrifying joys, like having a baby, or like the courage with which my mother faced her death.

The point is that for the most part, and with unbearable exceptions like Robin Williams and Aaron Swartz, we do keep plugging away at it, raising children, starting startups, picking up Bebe’s ashes from the vet and adopting new kittens from the shelter, saying goodbye, saying hello, going to work, trying to do a good job, trying not to yell, trying to be the institutional memory, trying to rewrite the codebase. Tidying up in an endless, hopeless cycle, trusting that the arc of history does bend towards something better than this, something more like justice. Paying the bills, karmic and otherwise.

The point is that it’s so clear to me that my grief for my mother is another, merely time-shifted expression of my love for her. Time is an arrow that flies in only one direction, straight to your heart. Without there being frail, old cats, how would you know to revel in the shiny sproinginess of the kittens? Without the dark of the tomb, how would you even perceive that shaft of the sun’s light? Angels are messengers, horrifying and incomprehensible. I don’t really understand what they’re saying to me but I know that it’s important, and I am trying to hear.

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