Every year since the kids were little, I put together a family Holiday Newsletter. Usually in some kind of rhymed verse or multiple-choice humorous format. It was quite an undertaking involving getting approval from each family member of my attempt to tell their news, taking it to Kinkos to get copied, decorating the edges, folding and putting inside the also-Kinkos-made Christmas card featuring my wife’s artwork, putting it in the envelope with a stamp and handwriting the address. A lot of work, but also great satisfaction and the slowness of the process was part of remembering each person I sent it to.
Now things have changed, as indeed they had to. My wife stopped making cards and sending anything out, my kids are grown and though I still tell some news of them, I don’t ask permission. I still write my own newsletter, partly to remember what I did each year and put in the filing drawer as a record and partly to share it with friends, even though many already know much from Facebook. And instead of the slow mail and handwritten address, it’s the group e-mail.
And now one more audacious step—putting some of it on this blog! Well, I suppose any loyal readers have become a family of sorts and writing is writing, my inescapable need to try to articulate something hopefully of value with hopefully some sense of craft. And so I include it below, minus the family news and photos I included in the group e-mail.
Last night we hosted our 35th annual neighborhood caroling party. Two days earlier, I put on the 40th Holiday Play in my 43rd year at school. Earlier in December, the Men’s Group that has been meeting for 27 years had dinner out on the town, as we do each year at this time. This morning, the first of my vacation, I sat in Zen meditation as I have most days of the past 45 years and then played a few hours of piano, an instrument I’m still trying to figure out 60 years after I started. What do all these numbers mean? What message do they add up to? Simply this:
I am as old as the proverbial hills.
But hey, much better than the alternative and truth be told, in a culture of flash and dazzle, of constant change, of short-term shallow commitment, I find the gifts of longevity, of persevering, of sticking to the tried-and-true and not fixing what ain’t broken, to be many and varied. What was once an ascending straight upward line of striving to achieve goals is now a circling spiral, passing through the same places just an inch or two higher, with both tangible progress and growth and seasonal pleasure in revisiting the same wonders year after year.
For example. I did the same Holiday Play, The Month Makers, that I did in 1987 and 1997 and my two colleagues noted the leaps and bounds of progress in my script-writing, conception and direction. That was satisfying. Both Bach and jazz are sounding better on my piano. When the next political or personal horror comes at me, I don’t go immediately from 0 to 60, but take a breath and keep my outrage on a leash. (But I keep it nonetheless, for without it, bad things will be given yet more permission). So in a life lived with attention and intention, longevity does not just bring diminishing of powers and dissolution—our hearing, our posture, our decision not to play anymore in the 8th grade/faculty basketball game— but also expansion of certain other powers, increased mastery and if we’re lucky, more gratitude and ability to bless and feel blessed. That’s real.
Can I get through this without mentioning the American political scene? Of course not! But you might be surprised to hear that I’m extremely hopeful. What happened last November revealed all the unresolved ugliness in American culture, but as the year went on, it also showed the beauty of the many who have been silent starting to speak up, the courage of those who have excused things starting to notice that it has gone too far, the long history of free speech helping to stem the tide of bad people in power trying to unravel democracy and our justice system keeping things together enough that the attempt to dismantle democracy is either halted or slowed and impeachment could become a reality. The big lesson is to not relax once these bad, bad people are gone, but to keep vigilant and most importantly, to educate, educate, educate. All ages, but particularly the young ones.
My world is populated with beautiful people from Iran, Turkey, Ghana, South Africa, Brazil, Colombia, China, Japan, India, Finland, Iceland, Spain, Austria and beyond and it warms my heart every moment I spend with them and hurts my heart that some of them can’t enter my country. The political scene at the moment is not only cruel and mean-spirited, but we have crippled ourselves by shooting ourselves in the foot every time we close the door and refuse hospitality and welcome. About to go to my annual Posada and sing the song where the innkeeper refuses a room to Mary and Joseph. When he finds out that she’s carrying “the Divine Spirit,” he smiles and says, “Oh, why didn’t you say so? Come on in!” If only we realized that every person who knocks at the door is carrying that Divine Spirit, we could finally be more generous and actually learn to love our neighbor the way someone suggested some 2,000 years ago. Wouldn’t that be a good idea?
So that’s it. As we turn with the year to 365 more chances to get it right, let’s collectively renew our vows to stay awake, be involved, speak out, listen, grant ourselves some stillness and silence. The happiest of holidays to you and yours!