(image by guitargoa via stock.xchng)The world is too big, though we pretend it’s not. We pretend, and try to take it all in, carrying it in our purses and wallets and hearts. For a while, we contain them—wars and famines, floods, governments rising and falling, the successes of success, the desolation of failures. But eventually the seams begin to split and tear, where sinking realities seep into the orderly places of life. They can be found in the strangest places, and we say—upon their discovery—“Aha, how did you get here? I thought I had cleaned this desk of clutter and disposed of all the dreadful thoughts. Away with you!” But like dust and the webs of invisible spiders, they return. It is because we were never meant to hold the world at all, much less in the smallness of our comprehension. But there is a penchant about such nonsense—supposing greatness. We can only tuck the unraveling threads for just so long before the mind is more wrent than whole, and what falls out is more than what stays in.
We feel it most acutely at Christmas time—the greatness made small by our smallness. That is because of the heightened accuracy of awareness sharpened by hope and memory, tempered by disappointment and loss. Summers and springs and other seasons are not so. They are always one: one kind of summer, one kind of spring. Summer is—what?—all heat and dry and sticky sleep; or warm with constant rain; or something completely different. But it’s always the same. Think of summer and what do you think of? It is all the same—whether the years have been eight or eighty. It is scary to talk that way because it shows us how small we are, that we are unable to keep a few summers separated in our minds well enough to say, “That summer was uniquely thus and so,” and so forth. A man can do that with one or a few, but not all of them. We can’t keep them straight and so compress them down into a monolithic recollection of sameness: heat and sweat, or warm and rain, or whatever the memory. But always the same.
Christmas is different. Having spent eleven months trying to hold in the world, we find ourselves undone at the seams. The world came in to us, and all the world goes out. Christmas is not flat: one dimensional. It can’t be chalked up to a homogenous sensation: cold. Every year is different, marked with the vividness of dreams fulfilled and not. The arousal of the senses is not easily dulled: eyes dilated, pulse increased, lips dry. The anticipation of hope is felt as acutely as is the wariness of apprehension. For good or for ill, all Christmas are different.
If we expect too much from Christmas, it is because we expect too little the rest of the year. All the bottled-up and undirected desire bursts out with such a vengeance that the most-best Christmas could not satisfy. We let it burst out on family and demand more than they can give. We pour it out on presents we wrap and unwrap with fury. Having drunk in the world and pissed it out eleven months straight, the emptiness is poignant, insatiable. The world is big; we are small. That’s the end of that.
Which is why the image of a barn trough is both so repulsive and compelling! The contraption is easily assessed, measured, and weighed for value: small. What lasting satisfaction could possibly be drawn from such an insignificant space? The mind offers suggestions: gold for a poor man, water for a thirsty man, food for a starving man, fire and light in the coldest, darkest night.
More than these, and less: an infant human, not less and so much more. One in whom the entire world could be taken in, taken in, and held. All the violence and homelessness and longing and sadness taken in, but the seams held. The cup would be offered, and he would drink it; his heart would not burst. He would expect the same of everyday, and it would be enough such that—at the end—he had no undirected desire. All was sufficient to him. That insignificant space would grow to wrap creation in such a wrapping as Christmas never saw, setting us all free to become small again. Heart seams are mended. Once pursed lips relax and in the air a sigh, as the smallness of comprehension yawns with satisfaction at the child making smallness great by his greatness.