Greetings and Merry Christmas to all.
I hope the day has been peaceful and filled with joy for everyone.
My day has been full, that's for sure. We were up at 6 a.m., thanks for my son, to open presents and have breakfast. Then I played the pipe organ for church at 9 a.m. Presents and lunch at my parents' house afterward. We went to visit my father at the nursing home for a little while in the afternoon. Then dinner at my house with my wife's family (a four-hour affair of turkey with all the fixings, cheesecake and an eggnog cake roll, and lots of special hot chocolate (heavy on the special). Then more presents.
I finished cleaning up a little while ago, then passed out on the couch. I am now watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas
with Jim Carrey.
Like I said, a full day. Lots of family and love.
Saint Marty is ready for a very long winter's nap.
A Christmas essay to end the holiday . . .
A Snow Globe, a Magic Wand, and a
by: Martin Achatz
I hope you and Mrs. Claus had a good
year. Did you grow enough carrots for
the reindeer? Can you grow carrots at the
North Pole, or do you have to import them?
I think I have been a good boy even
if I punched Silas on the playground. I
think I should still get a Cozmo Robot.
Some kids tell me I should not
believe in you any more. They say I am
too big. I do not care what they
say. I still believe.
My eight-year-old son, Gideon, didn’t
know that Aztecs believed night was a black orb roaring through an underworld
of infant souls. That the souls were
babies taken away before their first suckle and babies waiting in the wings for
the applause of their births. That this
black orb was also coupled with a Clawed Butterfly, a creature of obsidian wing
that feasted on the living during solar eclipses. My son didn’t know any of this that day in
August when the moon swallowed the sun in one coronal gulp.
As a young reporter, Francis
Pharcellus Church catalogued the dead of Gettysburg and Bull Run. Smelled gunpowder burn at
Fredericksburg. At night, decades later,
he probably still heard young men moaning for their mothers or girlfriends
under a pall of battlefield smoke. It
was a time of testing the nation’s beliefs, as Abraham Lincoln said. A crucible of Minie ball and bayonet. Despite being the son of a minister, despite
the tabernacle and pews of his last name, Francis became hardened and cynical,
a devout atheist. He left his faith on the
piles of amputated arms and legs of the Civil War.
On his first day of kindergarten,
Gideon sat under his desk, crowed like a Jurassic bantam when his teacher tried
to coax him into the reading circle. He
didn’t care about green or orange, nine plus one. Ate his afternoon goldfish crackers before
the first bell. Chased his classmates at
recess, barking elephant seal barks.
After two days, his teacher phoned,
told us, “I don’t know what to do with your son.” After five weeks, he was serving lunch
detentions with fifth and sixth graders.
In December, he told us not to hang up his Christmas stocking. He shook his head, as if trying to unknot a
stubborn shoelace, said to my wife, “What is wrong with me, Mumma?”
During eclipses, Vikings would
scream, roar, beat drums, blow lur horns as if pillaging the darkness for
light. They believed twin wolves chased
the sun and moon across the sky in a celestial game of fetch. The noises the Vikings made were to force the
wolves to drop their lunar or solar balls.
Australian aborigines blamed eclipses
on an aboriginal tribe that lived on the craters and valleys of the moon. They believed this tribe, filled with ill
will, stole the sun away, hid it under dust, in shadows, the way my son
squirreled away the rock he threw at our front porch window, the glass ribbing
with forks and fault lines.
Francis Church became a part of the
skepticism of the skeptical age that followed the Civil War. He wrote for several newspapers, got married,
but never had children. Perhaps this was
by choice. Perhaps, after witnessing
cannonballs shredding the bodies of men and boys with whom he’d just
breakfasted, Church didn’t want to bring another life into the world. Perhaps, on his wedding night, he told his
bride, Mary Elizabeth, of how hard it was to scrape the mud of Bull Run from
his boots, how the bloody dirt made the leather look like open wounds.
A diagnosis: Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
. . . a condition in which a child
displays an ongoing pattern of an angry or irritable mood, defiant or
argumentative behavior, and vindictiveness toward people in authority. The child’s behavior often disrupts the
child’s normal daily activities, including activities within the family and at
Errata: Substitute “Gideon” for the word “child.”
Solar eclipses were believed to be
evil portents for kings and emperors in the ancient world. In China, for example, a pair of royal
astronomers were executed because they got drunk and failed to foretell the
swallowing of the sun by an unseen dragon on October 22, 2137 BCE. A poem recorded their fates:
Here lie the bodies of Ho and Hi,
Whose fate though sad was
Being hanged because they
could not spy
Th’ eclipse which was
In the summer of 1897, the New York Sun received the following
letter from a young reader:
I am eight years old. Some of my little friends say there is no
Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it
in The Sun it’s so.” Please tell
me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
The chore of answering the letter was
assigned to one of the Sun’s veteran
editors. A no-nonsense man with a walrus
moustache who preferred to wrestle with political scandals and religious
controversies. A man of hard facts whose
only faith was his pen and a sheet of blank paper. He saw the universe as broad, unknowable,
humans as ants, tiny and insignificant.
The man’s name was Francis Church.
It’s a terrifying thing to feed your
six-year-old son psychiatric drugs.
Imagine Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Windhover, a beautiful bird with gold-vermillion
feathers, that fills your mornings and days with wild forest sounds, gashes of
leafy sunlight. Now, imagine having to
clip that bird’s wings, ground him forever from the blue bowl of the heavens.
Writer Annie Dillard says this in her
essay “Total Eclipse”:
. . . The lenses of telescopes and
cameras can no more cover the breadth and scale of the visual array than
language can cover the breadth and simultaneity of internal experience. Lenses enlarge the sight, omit its context,
and make of it a pretty and sensible picture, like something on a Christmas
Card. I assure you, if you send any
shepherds a Christmas card on which is printed a three-by-five photograph of
the angel of the Lord, the glory of the Lord, and the multitude of the heavenly
host, they will not be sore afraid. More
fearsome things can come in envelopes.
More moving photographs than those of the sun’s corona can appear in
magazines. But I pray you will never see
anything more awful in the sky.
According to Edward P. Mitchell,
editor of the New York Sun’s
editorial page, Francis, “bristled and pooh-poohed at the subject when I
suggested he write a reply . . . but he took the letter and turned with an air
of resignation to his desk.” Instead of
grappling with election laws or the presence of foreign ships in American
waters, Church spent the day drafting a reflection on something beyond sense
and sight, on a subject boundless and eternal.
Last Christmas, my son’s class had a
Secret Santa gift exchange. Every
student in the room was supposed to spend one dollar on a present for another
student. Pencil erasers. Plastic tiaras. Whistles or harmonicas. After several minutes of shopping at the
Dollar Tree, Gideon handed my wife a snow globe, a magic wand, and a
My wife told him he only needed one
My son’s eyes went dark, and my wife
steeled herself for a Godzilla apocalypse.
“But, Mumma,” he said, “what if
someone forgets to bring a present?”
Here is part of what Francis
Pharcellus Church—former war correspondent, seasoned journalist, avowed
atheist, childless husband—wrote in reply:
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in
fairies! You might get your papa to hire
men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but
even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? . . .
The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can
see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on
the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no
proof that they are not there. Nobody
can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the
You tear apart the baby’s rattle and
see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world
which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest
men that ever lived, could tear apart.
Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain
and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? . . . in all this world there
is nothing else real and abiding.
August 21, 2017. 1:15 p.m.
My wife was trying to capture the
solar eclipse with a cell phone and a piece of paper, pinpricked in the
center. She had no special glasses to
view the lid of the moon sliding over the sun, but she wanted to prove to
Gideon what was happening above them.
She called him to come over, but he was squatting a few feet away,
staring at the sidewalk. He ignored my
wife’s pleas. Finally, my wife went to
him, to see what he was studying.
The maple tree above them blazed with
chlorophyllic light. Its leaves were
studded with holes, places where aphids and wasps had chewed through. The disappearing sun blasted through these
apertures to the ground below. My son
was engulfed by hundreds of eclipses, thumbnail runes shifting and tumbling in
the afternoon breeze.
A couple of scientific facts:
1. A solar eclipse travels at 1700 miles
2. Santa Claus would have to travel at
650 miles per second (3000 times the speed of sound) to deliver his freight of
Mrs. Claus and I had a wonderful
year. Yes, the elves were able to grow
plenty of carrots for the reindeer.
You have been a very good boy. I wish I could say the same for Silas.
It gets harder and harder to find
children like you in this world. So many
of your little friends think that the moon and angels can’t exist
together. That the sun is too bright for
the scales of dragons. You may never
visit Mars or Jupiter, but they are still above, shining down. You may not be able to catch your parents’
love in a measuring cup, but it’s as real and deep as Lake Superior.
Shadows exist. They race across the world at frightening
speeds, darkening people’s hearts. Don’t
waste your time chasing shadows. Just remember
that after the moon comes the sun, after night comes morning. Follow the light.
I believe in you, too.