Thursday, December 21, 2006

Food Art

Others make beautiful truffles. But come Christmastime, me and my son, we prefer fudge.

And the best part -- at least artistically, if not gastronomically -- is greasing the pans with butter.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Ghost of Christmas Pluperfect Subjunctive

In Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future -- ghosts revealing to him what once was, what now is, and what will soon be. As a result of his encounters with these yuletide apparitions, Ebeneezer turns from his miserly ways and determines to live life differently from that day forward.

At this time of year, as much as I enjoy Dickens and the numerous TV and film adaptations of his short story (kinda prefer the George C. Scott version), my preferred holiday haunting comes not from the ghosts of past, present or future, but from the angel Clarence, from Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, or as I consider him, the Ghost of Christmas Pluperfect Subjunctive.
Clarence gives the movie’s protagonist, George (who is having a very, very bad day), a “great gift”: an imaginative exercise in the pluperfect tense (past completed action), subjunctive mood (contingency or hypothesis). George gets to see what the world would have been like if he had not been born.
Deb and I love this movie, but we haven’t seen it in a few years because the kids are often around when we watch something on the tube, and we don’t want them to see it just yet. We think you need a little more wear on life’s tires before you can really appreciate Capra’s message. You have to have lived awhile with some precious dreams, and some dreams deferred. You have to have seen some tragedy up close, and some tragedy averted. You have to have stood up for what’s right when it cost you something. You have to know the love of family, and of loyal friends. You have to have had some very, very bad days.
The kids aren’t there yet.
But we are.
I think it’s fitting, especially during this season of reflection, to spend some time following George’s path of wonder. I don’t usually go so far as to consider the state of my hometown in my absence (let alone a broader world -- I can’t imagine things would be much different), but simply to consider my own life and the choices I’ve made, and to imagine my life:
  • if I had joined choir instead of orchestra in junior high
  • if I had been a better friend to Craig in college
  • if I had continued working in advertising instead of going to seminary
  • if I had let someone else teach my kids to read
  • if I had studied Latin in high school (sigh)
  • if I had prayed more each day
  • if I had prayed less each day
A small choice here, a tweak there, and the trajectory of one’s life changes altogether. I can imagine an alternate universe – one in some ways perhaps better than the one I’m in now, and in other ways quite a bit worse.
The exercise is tinged with some regret, but as I look at the particular path I’ve walked these 40-odd years, with its adventures and accomplishments, its sorrows and celebrations, I mostly agree with Clarence: it’s a wonderful life.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

You Make Me Happy, Snow!

I just got back from dropping Pip off at the bus stop. Though it is reasonably cold right now (21 degrees), and we had been waiting 10 minutes for the bus to come, we were both disappointed when we saw it round the corner and head down the street in our direction. We were having too much fun.

Remember that Pip hasn't seen snow in something like three years. Already in October he was asking me "Dad, when is it going to snow? I want to see snow again!" Well, he got his wish this past weekend -- and then some. The kids had their first snow day of the school year on Friday. They went sledding that day and again Sunday afternoon with our friends the Muyskens.

Then this morning at breakfast he asked me about icicles. That led us into a conversation about snow being water that has crystalized. (Crystals, apparently, are inherently cool to 2nd graders). He'd heard elsewhere that each snowflake is unique. And of course, he's done the kindergarten scissors & paper decorative snowflakes. But nothing prepared him for an up-close look the real thing on its own terms. And today the conditions were perfect: the snow was falling delicately from the sky, and it rested gently on our gloves and coats in single flakes and small clumps, where it practically posed, inviting close inspection, admiration, wonder. Pip was flabbergasted at the beauty and complexity of this stuff that we blithely trudge around in and stomp off our boots when we come in the house.

"Wow! It's got so many points!" he said. "It's so tiny! It's so beautiful!"

"Look at this one!" I'd say, and we'd look. "Oh! Look at this one!!!" he'd say -- and we'd look together, each of us sharing each little gift as God dropped it down.

It reminded me of a winter years ago, when little Miriam had just acquired language and was eagerly awaiting the first snowfall. The December day it came, we bundled her up, and then she went outside, skipping through the front yard and praising God with with a direct address full of delight and joy: "O snow! You make me happy, snow!"

Let's face it, snow is not always something you can appreciate when you're shoveling it, or driving in it, or even sledding on it. And I think my friend Kent is mostly right when he says that snow in Michigan is about as exciting as Tuesdays in Michigan. But this particular Tuesday morning, through the eyes of my youngest, I found it pretty exciting.