Christmas for an imperfect world
Published: December 21, 2010
The first snowfall – a perfect morning to light a few candles, sip a second cup of coffee and look out the window while huge, wet flakes covered up the muddy construction zone our on-post neighborhood has become.
Can’t quite figure out why this improvement project was scheduled when the neighborhood is full and busy, not to mention cold and wet. In a perfect world, no doubt it would have happened in the summer, when traffic and temperatures were more hospitable.
But the world is not perfect; so dump trucks and backhoes vie with SUVs and minivans for access to the narrow slushy track that is our street.
I feel a pang of sympathy for the guys operating jackhammers and earthmovers in the wet snow while I’m in my house, warm and dry. A Christmas album partially obscures the rat-tatting and rumbling of the heavy equipment, as the snow partially obscures the scarred landscape.
Reflections on an imperfect world reminded me of a short trip I wrote about last Christmas.
My son was home for the holidays but was headed out to see friends in another city. As the big train glided out of the station, I waved and smiled from the platform. He would only be gone a day or two, but I felt a bit forlorn as the train pulled away.
Too bad our whole family couldn’t travel with him to visit friends from a past assignment, I thought, but work, school and life go on even during the holidays.
I got on the commuter train to return home alone and sat looking out the window as the German countryside went by. Tall evergreens, hills in the distance, and red-roofed houses were all sprinkled with snow. I thought of the Polar Express, arctic wolves and silent woods, but this train was ordinary, and a little seedy at that.
I ignored the graffiti below the smeary window and the man across from me complacently relieving his gastric pressure. I tried not to think about past travelers who might have done the same thing in the seat I occupied.
Instead, I enjoyed the idyllic scenery and looked forward to the baking I would do when I got home. Call it denial, but why focus on a dirty window when there’s beauty on the other side?
Bundled-up travelers got in and out at each stop, some with packages and shopping bags, each arrival accompanied by gusts of cold air.
I shivered, thinking this would be a perfect time for those waiters to come in singing, dancing and delivering some “Hot Choc-O-Lot.”
But life is no Christmas movie. If it were it, the director’s chair might just as likely be occupied by Kubrick as Capra. Life disappoints. Holiday plans fall through and hopes are not always fulfilled. Disaster, deployment and difficult diagnoses do not observe the calendar.
Road construction goes on and people do pass gas. I can curse the smell or light a candle. Some ugliness is more significant and much more difficult to overcome, but the overcoming has its own beauty and purpose.
The muddy road outside my window is temporarily transformed by a layer of white. The snow covers the ugliness, but the construction site underneath is the real agent of change. This inconvenient work in progress is becoming a new road.
Imperfection and sorrow may underlie the beauty of Christmas, but they don’t deny its truth. They pave the road for its advent. The more discouraging the circumstances, the more relevant the message that someone came to change them – and us.
I'll say with Linus: That's what Christmas is all about.