Saturday, December 28, 2019

You talkin' to me?

To people 'like me'?

A FB friend told me, "Don't kid yourself - the pope is talking to people like you when he talks about rigid Catholics."  I responded, "I always take what he says as if he is talking to me."  (I think I know what he meant when he said, 'people like me'.)

I especially take it to heart when Pope Francis says things like this:

“It is the best way to change the world - we change, the Church changes, history changes, once we stop trying to change others but try to change ourselves and to make of our life a gift.” - Pope Francis' two centerpiece messages for Christmas.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

An old Christmas Story

The extraordinary account of animal behaviour that first Christmas.
Although it is not recorded in the Bible, the story of how the lesser beasts behaved at the birth of the Infant Jesus has been handed down through generation upon generation in the animal kingdom, and the stories have varied little no matter what country one finds oneself in. Humans only know the story from their pets, the cats and dogs many people consider members of their family. Of course animal behaviourists like to claim that the animals' stories had been adapted from watching their masters set up a creche in their homes, and that they overheard the tale while the family piously read the Christmas story to children.
Perhaps - but I tend to doubt it, for why would, say a wolf in the forest know the exact same story? Or a country field mouse collect fir needles to festoon his nest with every Christmas Eve, and bring out the pine nuts he had stored up, only to be enjoyed for the twelve days of Christmas? In fact, it is the mice and rabbits who seem to have the most accurate stories of all. Of course the cats never forget a detail, therefore they deserve a great deal of credit as well. The dogs know the story, and tell it to their pups, but otherwise they don't talk about it much, they prefer to lay by the hearth and simply ponder the story quietly.
Oh I know, I know. People think it is the other way around, that dogs are boisterous and talkative, especially little dogs, that they would yap and yap about the story repeatedly throughout the Christmas season. They will argue that cats are more recollected and contemplative - but that theory doesn't hold up in this case. You see the cats acted in a most peculiar manner that first Christmas, and they are quite proud of it, since they feel their reputation for being ferocious and devious creatures had been redeemed that night. I will tell the cat's version of the story here.
How the cats took part in the birth of Jesus..
On that first Christmas eve, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of the holy Virgin Mary - and before anyone else knew about it, even the shepherds, the stray cats of Bethlehem gathered around the stable. They were hiding in the hay and behind the sleepy ox, one kitty slept on the back of donkey because it was warm, a couple of others cuddled up against St. Joseph who seemed to be asleep - although most mystics insist he was really in ecstasy.
The holy Virgin was kneeling upon a fleece laid over a bit of fresh straw, off in a pleasant corner of the stable, protected from view by the large sleeping ox and a low wall made of willow. The Blessed Virgin was in ecstasy as well, when suddenly a great light shone, and upon the fleece was a lovely newborn Infant, glistening as if bathed in star dust. No sooner had He appeared than the Blessed Mother swiftly wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in the manger nearby. As if from nowhere, the tiniest angels appeared, about the size of bees, encircling the newborn in the manger, while strains of heavenly music could be heard, along with the gentle singing of heavenly choirs.
Joseph awakened by the humming of the tiny angels, made his way very slowly into the enclosure, his head bowed, tears streaming down a face made radiant by the light emanating from the Holy Child and his Blessed Mother. He knelt next to his wife, adoring the Holy Infant. The ox noticed and rose partially, although just enough to kneel, facing the Holy Family. The donkey did likewise. The cats, naturally shy and accustomed to being shooed away, kept their distance until they noticed all the other little animals; mice, chipmunks, rabbits, gathering in awe at the foot of the manger, completely unconcerned about any sort of threat the cats posed.
Now, as you know, stray cats are always hungry and always looking for prey - which is why many people who dislike cats, tolerated them in the first place, since they kept their homes free of pests. Amazingly, albeit unnoticed by all, the cats simply watched all the critters assembling, it seemed to them it was a living banquet being laid out before their eyes. However, grandpa cat whispered that this was not the moment or place for feasting. He proceeded to explain to the other cats that they had all just witnessed a miracle:  Indeed, God Himself, our Creator, had come down that very night to live amongst men; first of all choosing to be with the animals, the least of the creatures of earth. Grandpa nodded to all the little animals who had assembled, particularly the mice, and reminded the other cats of the scriptures which referred to the Christ when it foretold, "In that day the kitty cat will lie down with the mouse." (Grandpa cat knew the scriptures because he sneaked into Temple every Sabbath. He quickly related how the Virgin would be found with Child, that her Child is the Redeemer and Saviour, who brings peace to all the world, renewing nature itself, and so on.)
With renewed confidence all the cats crept out of their hiding places, their attention rapt upon the Divine Child. The kitties were neither distracted by the mice and other animals, nor were they a bit perturbed when the shepherd's dogs arrived... the atmosphere being so permeated with peace and joy that silent night. A few of the older cats cuddled near the Madonna and the feet of St. Joseph to warm them. As it was a very cold night that first Christmas, Our Lady picked up a very fat mommy cat and another beautiful Siamese cat, placing them gently near the Child Jesus, to help warm Him and console Him by their purring.
The End

Sunday, December 22, 2019

A New Christmas Story

Chapter Two

One day last week, before Saturday, but after Thursday, I went out to the grocery store to pick up a few things for the weekend.  The store was busy with shoppers.

As I turned to go down one of the aisles, I detected a foul odor - similar to a garbage dumpster, I looked at a customer as he passed by, to see if he showed any reaction to the smell, but he seemed not to pay attention.  I looked ahead of me and saw the source of the odor.

An old man with a beat up fedora type hat, a tattered overcoat, ragged, filthy clothes, pulling an old wire shopping cart, duck taped together, with a much used black garbage bag containing his 'stuff'.  In a sort of wire-basket attachment, I noticed some groceries, yet only a bag of Frito's stood out.

As I moved closer, the stench was more intense. Almost like moss and earth with a pronounced odor of organic decay.  I glanced to see his face but it was dirty, unshaven, his glasses so smudged I was unable to see his eyes.  I moved quickly to pass by, the odor was revolting.  At the end of the aisle, I stopped to look back, and saw him pass by other customers who seemed to be oblivious to the man, not even a reaction to the odor, which seemed to fill the aisle, much less the bizarre specter of his appearance.

I stood there for a moment, wondering what sort of apparition I had just seen.  Save for the fact I had seen the same man at the same store in the exact same circumstance last summer, I might have thought the man was a Dickensian ghost, whose appearance was some sort of warning to me.  His appearance reminded me of a character I sometimes pastiche from the work of George Tooker, into my own compositions.  That said, his visage was more frightening to me than it was repulsive.

I can't forget him, and have speculated upon his reality.  Did I alone see him, was I the only person to perceive the decayed effluvia which surrounded him?  Was he a hallucination?  An apparition?  Or was he real?  Could he be a sort of hermit dwelling in the reeds across the playing field opposite the store, along the shore of the lake?  Perhaps he's a sort of iuródivyi, or fool for Christ?  The holy fools, pilgrims and mendicants, were not sweet smelling and finely dressed - their poverty was real.  The poor today are real... was he real?

I am now ashamed I was repulsed by him, wondering if he needed help, or money?  I reasoned he must be known to the store employees, since no one seems to react to his eccentric demeanor.  By the time I got to the register, the man was gone, leaving no tell-tale scent behind.  I was unwilling to ask the cashier if he had seen him, not knowing how to describe him with an appropriate empathy, and without expressing any sense of dread.

It still haunts me, perhaps he is my personal ghost of Christmas future?  What if he be a portent of what is soon to come?  Is there more to it?  Or did I just imagine it?
Pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing
To what I shall unfold. - Hamlet, Act 1,5,740