When my wickedly witty father wanted to insult someone, he’d say, “I have two words for you – and they’re not “Merry Christmas.”
At least this is what he thought he might say because I don’t think he ever insulted anyone. Even in private, he spoke only favorably of others, which impressed me as a young girl. I liked that he expressed admiration for others’ better qualities – their intelligence, humor, honor, dignity, generosity, grace, erudition and other attributes of the sort.
His wit – usually deadpan and dry – wasn’t for sissies, to borrow from his vernacular. His touch was light but his cut deep and true. My older brother and I became expert at the parry, and the three of us spent many a night, often around Christmastime, galloping through gales of laughter and reveling in the rapport that attaches to those who’ve gazed upon the landscape of humankind’s collective consciousness and reached the same wordless conclusion.
Popsie, as I called our father, would simply smile, point to the heavens and lift his brow. Translation: It’s a joke.
Meaning, God’s playing one on us. While we humans hustle to and fro making plans and promises, vexing over life’s tribulations, most of which we create for ourselves, God wanders the clouds plucking raindrops for his soup, waiting.
One day, the creator of infinity must imagine that his most-dubious progeny eventually will recognize that meaning won’t be found in wars or profits, in sporting victories or headboard notches, or among the other trophies, trinkets and totems we collect to deflect the possibility that we are only nothings after all.
Religion, mostly, has filled the void of unknowing. If one looks closely, one sees the rituals, symbols, icons as the motions of a people ordering their anxieties much as obsessive compulsive people do. Nothing wrong with that. The mind – or at least my mind – can only get so far before it hits the void of the inconceivable and, therefore, the unknowable. You can either take a pill and hire a shrink or accept on faith that there’s something more. As a disciple of preparedness, I do both.
Because I was raised a Christian, Christmas is what I do.
If Jesus wasn’t precisely the literal Son of God – I’m very comfortable with metaphor, parables, symbolism and, frankly, not knowing – then he was certainly God incarnate in that he embodied the eternal truths that make life bearable.
His essential message was so simple: Love.
Love thy neighbor as thyself.
It would take a lifetime to list all the sonnets and songs written to love, an idea and ideal so compelling that the ancient Greeks had at least four words for the different kinds of love – “agape” (unconditional love between man and God, parents and children); “eros” (romantic or sexual love, encompassing physical attraction); “philia” (love between friends, based on common values and interests); and, finally, “storge” (rooted in fondness or familiarity, as well as acceptance, as in tolerating the king or tyrant). I had the same thought: Republicans have overdosed on “storge.”
Plato argued that eros can be understood as seeking spiritual truth. We love Plato. What he meant was that in connecting with another through desire, we recall beauty. Essentially, he was talking about transcendence, another path to which is surely laughter. Maybe it’s because laughing is a complete mind-body meld or because to laugh is to surrender.
When was the last time you laughed so hard you couldn’t stop? I’ll bet you’re smiling now as you think of it. As to Plato’s suggestion, confess sinners: When do you feel closest to God? In prayer, of course. That’s what I meant.
It’s funny but I only realized as I’ve been writing that what made those kitchen nights so special, in addition to excellent wine, was love. We three became transcendent together, our souls connected through laughter, yes, but something else, too. I’m not sure what to name it, but we had agape and philia wrapped up with a bow.
Those times are long gone, the moments past, never to be repeated. My father has been gone 20 years now. My brother lives alone on a boat, far from the buzz of yuletide. Ever the anchor, I’ve been feverishly decorating my house so that when a certain 3-year-old arrives, she will feel love and joy.
To all of you reading, I have two words and it’s no joke. Merry Christmas. And may your new year be filled with laughter.
Contact Kathleen Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org.