I once heard a novelist say that if you put a birth at the end of a novel, that birth will be the end of the novel. Nothing is going to upstage new life--can there be any greater event? That's what he said--or words to that effect.
I did it once--my last published novel, in fact, the best novel I ever wrote, I think, although it was remaindered less than a year after coming out. Once it was clear where the plot was going, I ended the story with new life.
There's something to it, I think, something to that idea. New life trumps just about everything when you think about it. How you going to upstage a baby?
We had our Christmas early this year, both of our kids taking off today, Christmas Eve. So yesterday we had our holiday, and it was a joy. If a picture says a thousand words, then check out what's above here, because what you see on that face catches the temper of our day--for which we're thankful, Grandma Schaap and I.
Would have been nice to have my wife's folks there, but they're just about ninety and not about to leave the home, even for the opening of the presents. So we had to bring something of Christmas to them, which we've done, in part, and we'll yet do, a bit more, tomorrow--Christmas Day.
I'll show them this picture--and the others--and my guess is that they'll be want to stare at them for hours, then get up and get a cup of coffee, and start in again. They're at that point in life when just about the only thing that matters is their kids and the grandkids and the great-grandkids. Their world is much smaller than it was when Dad worried about harvest and Mom was running her own little reupholstering business. What brings them joy--more than anything else, far more than their own kids--is their grandkids. Which is not to say they can take them all afternoon.
With three parents nearing 90, buying Christmas presents has become something of a chore. Not one of them really needs anything. Most of them don't really care for more clutter--knick-knacks and such. Clothes are a little silly too. None of them wants a cell phone or a digital camera or an mp3. So what do you buy?
What it comes down to, irreduceably, is something connected with the grandchildren--something, anything. Give them a couple of pictures and their happy as clams--honestly. They're at that point when little else brings as much happiness as a baby, as children, as kids--a hug from their great-granddaughter, a smile from her brother. That's all they need, all they want, and there's is a very merry Christmas.
It was an act of genius for the Lord God almighty to bring us redemption by way of a baby in a manger on or near winter solstice. Just when all the world looked dark and dreary, he tells his own son to pull on a suit of human skin and get himself born into the world he'd created solely for his joy. He made his son a baby--had to burped and changed, had to be held, had to be cuddled. He gave us all a child at Christmas. What an incredible idea.
So here's my kid story this Christmas. My granddaughter and I go shopping, like we've done since she was still young enough to sit in the shopping cart; and this year, for the first time, she's got a list. Donuts for Dad, M&Ms for Mom (go figure), and some kind of catnip toy for the cat. After that it's hunt and pick, and I'm the governor on her little purring engine.
When it's time for Great-Grandpa and Grandma, we're walking past the footwear, when she spots houseslippers and points as if they were what the doctor ordered. Good choice. Her great-grandpa has been having some foot problems as of late, so I happen to know his shoe size. The rack has nothing bigger than a 12, and I'm sure he'll need bigger. I ask the clerk, who sends us over to a wall full, where we find a 13--black, rubber-soled, heavy felt. Perfect for winter. Neither of us knows whether he's already got slippers, but I'm not about to lug anything into the path of her enthusiasm--and I'm guessing my father-in-law won't either.
Great-grandma is a little tougher. At the jewelry counter, Jocelyn checks over necklaces ("well, you know, Grandma doesn't wear much jewelry anymore) and diamonds ("we better let Grandpa buy that stuff"), before settling on rings. There's a massive Wal-Mart selection at ten bucks. I'm in. She looks for awhile--maybe ten minutes--before settling on something more than a little garish, I thought, something with a big, pink, fake diamond right in the middle. She likes it because she likes pink, I'm sure. But I'm not about to stop her. We ring it up.
I wasn't there when Jocelyn gave her great-grandparents the presents. I would have liked to have been, but she and her uncle went over alone and gave them what she'd picked out. She told me they liked them. She said they both put on their presents right away--after taking them out of their wrapping paper.
I'm sure they did.
Today--tonight--is Christmas Eve. And here's what I know. "Silent Night" is gorgeous anytime, but tonight the whole world sings it, even though all through the neighborhoods, I'm sure, there isn't much silence, not much at all, families opening presents and eating carmel corn or whatever, making memories, shooting pictures with new digital cameras. Doing Christmas. Even that song is more wonderful tonight than any night of the year, there's not much silence around us.
But in the old folks home where Jocelyn's great-grandparents live, silence will reign, as it does most all the time. Tonight, Christmas Eve, will almost surely be a silent night at the home because most all of them are.
No matter. I know two residents who will be sitting there together, maybe listening to some Christmas worship service on cable. One of them will be wearing brand new black house slippers, and the other will have on her finger an absolutely gorgeous ring, set with the most beautiful pink diamonds the world has ever seen. Gifts, like grace itself, this day and this night.
That's Christmas in our corner of the world.