Serenity Now

Last night, the night of the winter solstice, I flipped open my copy of John Ashbery‘s Notes from the Air, pretty much at random, to “And the Stars Were Shining,” which begins thus:

It was the solstice, and it was jumping on you like a friendly dog.
The stars were still out in the field,
and the child prostitutes plied their trade,
the only happy ones, having learned how unhappiness sticks
and will not risk being being traded in for a song or a balloon.
Christmas decorations were getting crumpled in offices
by staffers slumped at their video terminals,
and dismay articulated otherness in orphan asylums
where the coffee percolates eternally, and God is not light
but God, as mysterious to Himself as we are to Him.

This stanza is as apt a summary of the ambivalences and contradictions of this season as I’ve seen. In ten lines, it wraps up the innocence and enthusiasm, the commerce and cynicism, the light in darkness and resilience in adversity, and, of course, the estrangement from God. But today, on Festivus, it also occurs to me that this literate airing of grievances could, in some alternate universe, be to this holiday what “A Visit from St. Nicholas” or A Christmas Carol has been to Christmas.

Despite my history with it, I’m actually comfortable with Christmas this year. I’m looking forward to the time off I have coming up and to seeing my family on Christmas day. Despite my ongoing medical adventures and the apparent impending collapse of Western civilization, I find myself swept up in a feeling of well-being–not that I don’t also feel anxious or overwhelmed as well. I hope you’re all facing 2009 with some of that same sense of well-being.

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