I like the wise men the best.
The Gospel of Matthew, the only gospel that mentions that the wisemen, offers no account of the thought process that went into their decision to follow the star, marking the location of the “King of the Jews.”
They simply had a gut instinct that this sign in the sky was good, packed up for the journey, believed in themselves, the star, and hit the road, carving their own path through a desert, following the hope illuminating the vast darkness of a December sky.
This is what I imagine when I step outside my door this time of year and gaze into the sky searching for the same star, knowing that winter is bedding down in the earth and in my bones.
The sky is dark. The air is cold. And yet, despite all the noise of the season, the ringing bells, crinkling wrapping paper, and the din of glasses and laughter at parties, I can step outside this world and find the quiet the wise men must have experienced.
It is a time to think. It is a time to hope. It is a time to believe in crazy shit that makes no sense.
I can see these men in the desert, huddled next to their camels, wrapped in clothes, alone amidst the silence of the earth and sky and their thoughts, the star looming over them. I like this moment.
The decision to follow the star becomes a conscious choice made by spiritually rugged men of free will.
Matthew calls them wise men, not kings, and doesn’t describe what they look like at all. There is no textual justification for the lavish images of kings travelling with an entourage to deliver chests of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I don’t know where this shit comes from; it isn’t in the gospel.
When I read the bible, I pay attention to the space in between the lines and wonder about the parts that are left out as opposed to obsessing over the lines that men recorded, manipulated, and edited for their own ends.
I look to those spaces in the bible where the imagination and intuition can take flight in order to make sense and infuse personal meaning to these wonderful root stories of hope, faith, and salvation that have been mutilated in the publication process.
In these spaces, I find the wise men in the desert, far away from their home, dressed in modest clothes, eating what was available, enjoying the presence of each other, and appreciating the overwhelming beauty of the earth. This makes sense.
I would like to believe that the wise men had to make an enormous sacrifice for the gifts of faith they bore on their journey. I don’t believe that they went into their overflowing storeroom of riches to grab these gifts before they left. Rather, I want to believe that they had to give up something important and it wasn’t easy, but they did it because they knew it was right. This is meaningful for me.
I feel a kinship with the wisemen because, like them, a star appeared in my sky, and I followed it because it seemed good and right, and a sign of better times to come.
No one will ever know what my desert looked like. Nor how cold the air was or how barren my earth appeared. But like the wisemen, I travelled far because I wanted to believe in hope, follow it, find it, and give it everything.
If you know Fransesca, lived a moment in her light, then you know how bright the star in my sky is.
Her light made me pack up my shit, sacrifice important things, and walk through a desert far from home, to follow a star.
The light in my sky, like the star in the east in the time of the Magi, makes me believe in something beyond myself, this earth, and hope.
Merry Christmas Francesca.
- dedicated to my wife and the woman who married us, PD, two women who have shaped my faith.
Recently, I found myself incarcerated in a Baby Gap.
“What do you think of this one?”
“Do you think Mya will like it?”
“It is hard to tell. She drools and smiles at me while I tell her how cute she is. We haven’t discussed her tastes in fashion yet.”
“It is ad-dooorable!” Francesca holds it up to an imaginary Mya, her eyes gleaming, then makes her way to the register. In line, she roots through her receipt littered purse, then looks at me, “Oh my god, I think I left my debit card…can I take the keys?”
“Sure, I am going to wander around the mall. Will you pick me up right outside?”
I hate shopping but I love walking through the mall, particularly during the holiday season, because it is a mental safari in the sociological bush.
In past trips I have studied female migratory patterns, the feeding rituals of fat people, pack dynamics of teens, and the ways in which parents socialize their offspring in the wild.
On this day, I meticulously observed the zeal with which parents place their kids directly in harm’s way.
For example, the North Pole strikes me as a genuinely dangerous place. I haven’t been there, but I imagine it is icy, dark, and hard to get fresh produce. Evidently Santa lives there among perpetually small people, a completely de-sexualized wife, reindeer, and the freezing cold. You know weird shit is going on there.
All year, fat, sexually repressed, vitamin deficient, Santa “watches” children. Then on a his favorite night of the year he dresses up in a special suit, loads up “treats” for the kids in his white, windowless cargo van he calls a sleigh, flies around, then breaks into and “enters” childrens’ homes by squeezing himself into a chimney shaft that is way too small for his creepy body.
After he slides down the shaft, he eats kids’ cookies and drinks their milk.
And yet, each Christmastime, parents dutifully prepare their children, dress them up, then stand in line to deliver their kids, freshly scrubbed and supple, to the pedophile in a red suit who gets paid to stage re-enactments of real Santa’s sexual deviancy.
“Have you been a good little boy?”
As rent-a-Santa takes this opportunity to fondle the child, the boy’s parents are paying the photographer to capture this special moment on film. Typically, the economics of kiddie porn work the other way around.
Not that I know.
It would appear that the financial and sexual windfall that these pedophiles reap during the six week child molester harvest season must subsidize the other 46 weeks of the year in which these child molesters must ply their trade for free and at great risk of discovery.
Around Thanksgiving, our society enthusiastically moves these men from the dark basements, simmering showers, school parking lots, and cloistered abbeys and sets them up, MTV cribs style, with servants to expedite the groping process, a new red suit, a touching throne, candy canes, and a red plastic house within steps of the Cinnabon crack factory.
It is divine if you like gooey white cream drizzled all over hot fresh buns.
It is horrifying if you like child safety.
When I passed by this macabre scene, I found a father holding his child, freshly released from Santa’s lap.
The child was crying, bawling really, because he was scared out of his fucking cruiser diapers by Santa.
The father consoled his son.
“It is okay. It is only Santa. Do you see him? He is friendly.”
“You don’t want Santa to see how upset you are. Do you? Come on now. Quiet down now.”
The father might as well have been singing to him:
You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town.
Oh don’t worry kids, the second verse is 113% more child toucherific.
He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!
That is creeptastic with a slice of fruit filled molded jello.
Wash that down with this fun fact:
73 % of child abuse victims report that the abuse was performed by a person who was introduced to the victim via the parents or family as an authority figure.
It turns out Santa is a clever creeper with a wire-tight alibi and a phenomenal PR team.
I love Christmas and all of its of ridiculous trappings but I am suspicious of an all knowing, all seeing, sexually frustrated guy in a red suit with magical powers, who gives the “nice” kids who don’t “cry out” hush presents, while the “bad” kids, like the screaming child in the mall, get coal and their parents’ disapproval.
It is a frightening time of year.
I walked out of the mall and found Francesca waiting for me.
“How was your walk?”
“It was fine. Listen…honey, when we have kids, will you take them to the mall to get a picture with Santa?”
I come from a state where a person is free to buy high powered fireworks, get drunk by a campfire, and shoot himself in the face.
“What the fuck guy? I thought I lit it.”
“I don’t know man. Go light it again.”
Moments later there is a simmering bottle rocket where Frank’s eye should be.
I come from a state where you don’t have to wear a helmet when riding your motorcycle along winding roads lined with granite stone walls.
We sell booze at the welcome center on the state highway.
Like the world we live in, it doesn’t make much sense and it’s really fucking dangerous, but at least we are free to be stupid and die.
Or, if we are lucky, live and learn.
New Hampshire’s state motto isn’t simply a slogan on highway signs and license plates.
It lives in within us.
Live free or die.
Only one half of this ultimatum is a choice. Ask the Old Man in the Mountain.
In the pivotal moments of my life, the glacial forces grinding inside me have pushed this maxim from my depths like slabs of granite from the New Hampshire earth.
I would rather die, than live a life fettered to fear.
There are serious repercussions for this way of life.
And yet no matter what happens, I gravitate towards fireworks, freedom, and a fucking good time.
Perhaps it is because there was never a locked door in my childhood. The door to the world, its dangers and wonder, was always open.
I would scream upstairs, “Mom, I am going for a walk.” Then turn to my dog, “Let’s go.” I never waited for the reply.
Talbert scrambled to his feet, gave me a knowing look, and off, into the world, we went, completely unleashed.
We found open fields, wooded paths, and silent forests. My imagination filled these spaces with evil monsters, daring heroes, fully functioning societies, and enough drama to last the afternoon.
It wasn’t until my boundless adventures got hemmed in by the rules, schedules, and mindless tasks of kindergarten that I discovered the value of freedom.
Even in kindergarten I would rather live free. Or just fucking kill me.
When my mom dropped me off, neatly dressed and socially acceptable, I would ignore everyone and head straight for the enormous reserve of wooden blocks in the far corner of the room.
There I began to recreate the outside world for which I longed.
I built vast civilizations complete with intricate roads, factories, homes, and towering palaces that sprung forth from the blueprints of my imagination. I employed a few of my classmates as general laborers to assist in the grunt-work of my fanciful visions. I ignored everything else.
When faced with external limits, I retreated into the freedom of my mind.
The teachers called home.
“Mrs. Charles? We think something might be wrong with Trevor. He doesn’t seem to want to do the activities we plan for the class.”
Years later, my parents told me that my kindergarten teachers thought I had some learning disorder, social disorder, or was just plain retarded.
“Trevor? Can you come over to the table for the morning project?”
I would slowly turn my head, look over my shoulder at the teacher, my fiery eyes betraying my inner monologue.
“Right now? But…..”
My eyes returned to my precious kingdom, knowing that the portico on the south palace needed finishing but I had to tear down the armory because I needed the wooden middle size blocks and there weren’t any more in the box. These were tough decisions.
The woman standing above me had no appreciation for the intricacies of municipal planning and resource allocation.
In silent opposition, I would morosely leave my world, the portico unfinished, to join the table of curls, construction paper, Osh-Kosh overalls, and gluesticks to spell my name in elbow Macaroni.
Three minutes later, the task finished, I would look up at my teacher, holding my perfectly formed macaroni name and silently say, “There. You happy now you dumb bitch?”
My parents sent me off to specialists to take tests behind closed doors to discover that I was simply fucking bored.
Even at a young age, I really struggled when my engulfing sense freedom ran head first into the social norms that require us to do dumb shit in order to get by and go unnoticed.
To this day I struggle mightily with it at work, at home, and inside my head. My default setting is the kid in the woods of the world, romping around, building worlds and rules and living by them.
It was out there in that space of the real and the imaginary, that I discovered a moral framework and a god – the word that you can most easily connect to the idea I don’t dare define – that worked for me.
I found that god lives within me, the dirt path I walked on, the leaves, in Talbert, and in you.
I don’t worry about what my god thinks of me because my god lives fully and free. My god doesn’t like to be closed in by churches where we get told to stand up and sit down or schools where we make shit out of Macaroni.
My god tells me to live free because we die.
- dedicated to the living memory of Donald James Parnell, a granite stater, a good man, and the proud owner of the best above ground pool west of the blinking yellow light.