The holiday season here seems much about purchasing commodities, "gifts for me" and, even when it involves charitable donations or Christmas presents, being recognized for our giving. However, the capacity to give costly presents is primarily a reflection of happenstance and of itself relates little to our true worth. Even Scrooge became a better, generous person only when forced to see how his miserliness would affect his future. That's a humbug example of altruism.
In my first grade classroom each year, my mexicanitos tend to think the season is about two things: purchased gifts and "gifts for me." So when the school's Holiday Fair opened, they gathered what little money they had and got drawn into the mania. Despite class discussions about the meaning of the season, nearly all the children returned with trinkets and cheap toys they'd bought for themselves. Trying to lecture to or model for them how Christmas should be about something more noble is a lesson not easily taught, at least by me.
When a rich benefactor adopted our school's kindergarten classes, some teachers suggested he spread his philanthropy to more grades, but he preferred just the kinder kids. Thus, approximately 100 children received several outrageously great presents. What I wondered was, how would their unemployed or plain-old-poor parents feel on Christmas day when their hijos opened Dad and Mom's gift that couldn't monetarily compare to what they'd received from the philanthropist?
In an attempt to carry a different message in my own life, this year my family sent out the following invitation:
"Those of us who are (somewhat) employed and (relatively) not destitute like too many in this country are (presently) the lucky ones. My family and I are among those (this year) and would like to share our (current) well-being with others. Come share something creative with us and others. It could be written, spoken, sung, or performed. Drawn, painted, carved or pasted together for show-and-tell. Baked, steamed, homemade, self-portraited, or recently read. Or something entirely different, of your choosing." I myself didn't know how it would be received and who would show up with what. Briefly, here's some of what was shared:
My niece Tonantzin Canestaro-Garcia participated in absentia, via her CD. Go here for a taste of her poesy. You can also catch her verse in Hecho en Tejas: An Anthology of Texas-Mexican Literature, edited by Dagoberto Gilb.
Art teacher Trudy shared her poetry:
"I want to meet me, I've been curled up inside
I haven't come out, thought it better to hide
I want to meet me, how about right now
I need to know and,
don't care about the what or the how
I want to meet me, who I am
what makes me strong,
how do I get through work all day long,
I want to meet me, not the image or reflection
but the person, I'm constantly perfecting
I want you to meet me, not the old me
but the new the one who doesn't have to hide,
because I know who I am, do you?"
Deme shared this seasonally appropriate gem by Neil Gaiman from his collection Smoke and Mirrors. Like much of this strange Englishman's stuff, the entire book is worth a read. Gaiman's intro explains, "Every year I feel insignificant and embarrassed and talentless. So I wrote this one year. I sent it out to everyone I could think of. My card. It's exactly 100 words long." Here they are:
"Nicholas was older than sin, and his beard could grow no whiter. He wanted to die.
The dwarfish natives of the Arctic caverns did not speak his language, but conversed in their own, twittering tongue, conducted incomprehensible rituals, when they were not actually working in the factories.
Once every year they forced him, sobbing and protesting, into Endless Night. During the journey he would stand near every child in the world, leave one of the dwarves' invisible gifts by its bedside. The children slept, frozen into time.
He envied Prometheus and Loki, Sisyphus and Judas. His punishment was harsher.
My daughter Marika, a photographer, shared video from a recent trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but since I'm technologically challenged, you need to go here to see something simlar.
Carrie read Neruda's Poema 20 from Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada:
"Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.
Escribir, por ejemplo: " La noche está estrellada,
y tiritan, azules, los astros, a lo lejos".
El viento de la noche gira en el cielo y canta.
Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.
Yo la quise, y a veces ella también me quiso.
En las noches como ésta la tuve entre mis brazos.
La besé tantas veces bajo el cielo infinito.
Ella me quiso, a veces yo también la quería.
Cómo no haber amado sus grandes ojos fijos.
Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.
Pensar que no la tengo. Sentir que la he perdido.
Oír la noche inmensa, más inmensa sin ella.
Y el verso cae al alma como pasto el rocío.
Qué importa que mi amor no pudiera guardarla.
La noche está estrellada y ella no está conmigo.
Eso es todo. A lo lejos alguien canta. A lo lejos.
Mi alma no se contenta con haberla perdido.
Como para acercarla mi mirada la busca.
Mi corazón la busca, y ella no está conmigo.
La misma noche que hace blanquear los mismos árboles.
Nosotros, los de entonces, ya no somos los mismos.
Ya no la quiero, es cierto, pero cuánto la quise.
Mi voz buscaba el viento para tocar su oído.
De otro. Será de otro. Como antes de mis besos.
Su voz, su cuerpo claro. Sus ojos infinitos.
Ya no la quiero, es cierto, pero tal vez la quiero.
Es tan corto el amor, y es tan largo el olvido.
Porque en noches como ésta la tuve entre mis brazos,
mi alma no se contenta con haberla perdido.
Aunque éste sea el último dolor que ella me causa,
y éstos sean los últimos versos que yo le escribo."
Neruda. In the original. Aloud. Makes any sharing more than can be described in print. Carrie was also arm-twisted into reading aloud her great short essay accepted by NPR, which you can check out here.
Patrick, on guitar, performed his song The River:
"Sitting back thinking 'bout yesterday
and all those things that I used to know
somehow they all seem to slip away
and I cry
change in the weather, I've always liked this time of year
brings misty memories from deep inside
seems like I'm watching life on a movie screen
then I realize
down by the river
things that I used to know
my memory's clearer, for things that I used to know
and if we all think about our pasts
how we wish the times would last."
Linda1 shared crafts she'd made, two of which I scanned, plus her first bronze sculpture that she'd made to go to her parents.
Now 60, Dan shared an essay he wrote when turning 50.
Susan shared an article that referenced her vegan belief of not cutting a tree for Christmas.
Linda2 detailed how the delicious gumbo she brought to share linked back to her Houston, Tex. upbringing.
Vixen, a Furry, shared her artwork, of which I unfortunately have none to show here.
Donald Holstrom, lead investigator of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, took us off to a place we didn't imagine we'd go, when he shared a DVD about the explosion at British Petroleum's Texas City (Houston) refinery in 2005 that killed fifteen workers and injured 180 others. The graphics simulation of how this occurred captivated us, despite the subject. Go here to view video of this. Tragic though the topic was, its sobering effect somehow didn't seem out of place, during a time when we indeed had something else to feel thankful for.
What else was brought to share, all that my wife Carmen had prepared, graced our table and home, eaten or imbibed, and as I watched and listened to the stories unfolding, I thought to myself what a wonderful creation the night itself became. Sometimes nervously, hesitantly, each person brought or even exposed something of themselves, something precious, from their past or heart, and as we warmed to the whole idea, the atmosphere opened up to more from the next to share.
This all led me to think that 2010's sharing might include more worth posting via La Bloga, live, webcast, etc. We'll see.
Back in my classroom on our last day before break, the kids returned from another round of gift-receiving, this time courtesy of the local sheriffs who became Santas for the first graders, with bundles of toys. Some received one huge gift, others a medium-sized one with a few smaller ones. I overheard six-year-old Manuel discussing what he planned to do with his four presents and had to have him explain it to the entire class.
He said (translated):
"I'm going to save this one and give it to my sister, this one's for my dad, and this one for my mom. I'm going to keep this one for myself."
He stunned the class.
He made me choke up.
The silence in the room and the looks on many faces made it obvious he'd succeeded in teaching the others about the something-nobler that I'd been working on for over a week. Two of them broke the silence, remarking:
"Eso quiere decir que Manuel es una buena persona."
It was that simple. Manuel was just that way. Sharing.
If your Christmas was somewhat like mine, or much like Manuel's, feel free to share some of it with La Bloga readers in Comments below.
© 2009 Rudy Ch. Garcia