Christmas: It is always such a mixing of this world and the next -- but that, after all, is the idea.
2& -- Evelyn Underhill, "The Letters"
IN THE morning, they danced, the small boy and his father, spinning and laughing, all the while holding tightly to each other, as though they clung to life itself.
One after another Christmas tunes played -- the slow waltz of "Silent Night" giving way to the hectic whirl of "Jingle Bells." They moved from room to room, gliding through air full of pine scent and innocence.
The father held the boy tightly. He pressed the baby's cheek to his mouth. Christmas and all the man remembered about it suddenly became a possession, something secret and private, like few other things he had ever owned. Christmas and all that it used to mean sat in the man's heart, waiting forever, like immortality -- something beautiful and foreign, beyond all that he now thought of as real.
The man wished it were snowing. He longed for a magical event, where enchantment is sent to Earth in the form of white snowflakes and an only son. He wished for the world to be covered in white, so that the baby boy could see nothing but silence and the purity that comes with a great snowfall.
The man opened his eyes. He peered out the window, half expecting the snow. Instead, he caught a glimpse of the mail truck, in a small cloud of smoke, pulling away from the box by the side of the road.
Amid the green and red Christmas greetings, they found the single white envelope without a return address. The man, a writer, had The man's eyes darted down the page full of underlinings and multiple exclamation points. The father shifted
the squirming baby to his other hip and got to the last line on the bleached white paper: "Hitler only made one mistake -- he didn't kill all of them!!!"
seen his share of these letters. Even unopened, they send a small shudder through the system. His premonition was right.
Earlier in the month (Other Voices, Dec. 15), the man had written a piece about the dangers of Holocaust denial. The letter was a response. The opening line was enough: "How did those kikes get you to tell their lies for them???" It was, of course, unsigned.
The man's eyes darted down the page full of underlinings and multiple exclamation points. The father shifted the squirming baby to his other hip and got to the last line on the bleached white paper: "Hitler only made one mistake -- he didn't kill all of them!!!"
The air had turned cold, and the man took the shivering baby back into the house. They warmed themselves by the fire, and the father dropped the letter on the burning logs. It turned brown at the corners and then disappeared.
The anonymous letter writer is out there somewhere. The man gathers by a line near the bottom, a line about Jews being "the killers of our Lord," that the composer fancies himself a Christian.
The man wonders if the writer has danced with his own baby. He wonders if the writer has taught the baby to love Jesus, a Jew, and then to think, as he does, about all other Jews. The man remembers a line from the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard about how most Christians are willing to follow the admonition to love others -- as long as they get to pick their own exceptions.
In the afternoon, the baby falls asleep, and the man begins to write. He writes about a corrosiveness of adulthood that forces us to make the better parts of ourselves inaccessible to all except those with whom we are most intimate. The man hopes that on a sacred day, like Christmas, the writer of the letter can love at least those who are close to him.
A while later, the baby awakens, and the man and child resume their dance. They whirl and spin. They share that laugh that only comes when one tickles the ribs of a small child.
A moment later, they look out the window beyond the oak trees to the great pines that line the property. The sky is a bright gray. The boy smells of pine and baby shampoo. And the man could swear it is snowing.
Stephen Vicchio teaches philosophy at the College of Notre Dame.