Wednesday, December 26, 2012


I haven't talked much about the Sandy Hook school shooting, mostly because I can't. It makes no sense to me, in much the same way that I couldn't process what happened at Columbine High or at Virginia Tech. This is not to say I'm not affected by this shooting, or any of the other tragedies. I can't imagine anyone not being affected. But I can't make sense of it. No one can.

The fighting between outraged politicians, though, is disgusting. Turning the debate towards school safety or gun laws is avoiding the issue. Our schools are incredibly safe and are staffed with caring, dedicated individuals. But life is unpredictable, and sometimes horrible things happen. But to discuss the shortfalls is to intimate we could have predicted this attack and therefore prevented it. In the end, I think that is what disgusts me most about all the news reports and FaceBook memes floating around: the idea that this was predictable and preventable, any more than any other tragedy is.

I pray for the families affected and all of Newton. I pray for everyone who has lost someone dear to them, regardless of how publicly.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Magi, Dickvale style

For Devon, on that memorable Christmas Eve in 2002. There are edits I'd make to this today, but since this is how I read it to her, this is how it remains.

I know you are all familiar with O Henry's telling of the sacrifices we make for those we love (if you haven't heard it again tonight, be patient...). That story is one of my favorite stories of all time, Christmas or otherwise. I love the variations on that story as well-- especially Bert trading his paperclip collection with Mr. Hooper for a soap dish for Rubber Duckie, while Ernie gave Rubber Duckie away in exchange for a cigar box for Bert's paperclips. Children's programming being what it is, Mr. Hooper, who was Jewish, arrived Christmas Eve in Bert and Ernie's apartment to return their treasures to them, free of charge. All is right on Sesame Street again. Love is alive.

I had the honor of witnessing a very real reenactment of this classic tale. As you all know by now, I took it upon myself to inform as many friends as I could about the shinny new washing machine now sitting in the other room. The responses were overwhelming. They came fast, they came furious, they came overflowing with emotional and financial support. Many responded by saying "let me know if you don't achieve the goal"; more than a few came with disclaimers saying "I wish I could send more...". In a week's time we had paid for the washing machine. Money is still trickling in. It's a tangible way of telling Nick and Devon how much they mean to us, individually and as a group. You can't put a price tag on a life, but you can on major appliances.

While it was amazing to receive checks for $50 or $100, the most incredible ones were the small ones. High school and college kids donating what they had. But the one I still can't think about without crying came from our very own magi. She showed up at my house one morning before work, and said "I'm giving you all the cash in my wallet It's what I told myself I would do, so here it is.". She stood next to me, gave me a few bills, and proceeded to empter her change purse. It totaled $2.68. I know this was as much as she could afford to give-- to be honest, it was more than she could afford. " Some of my best childhood memories have Nick and Devon in them..."

Christmas is about love. I believe in the poer of love, and in the goodness of people. Whether you gave hundereds of dollars or $2.68, you gave it out of love, and my life-- our lifes-- will be forever changed for witnessing it. In a wold of selfishness, in a time where extra money doesn't exist, our mailbox has been filled with generosity. What do you give to the most giving people you know? You give love, in whatever form it takes.

Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are the wisest. Everywhere they are the wisest. They are the magi.

the blessings of traditions

I am lucky to have stumbled into living and working in an amazing community. I came here mostly because my best friend from college had been hired here, and why not move to a place where you know people already? When I got here, I had no idea that I would become surrounded by an incredible community of like minded individuals. Talk about cashing in on some good karma...

One of the traditions we stumbled into is Christmas Eve readings. This was a Farm tradition, Nick, Devon, Kaiya and Caitlin at first, but one year they opened their home to all their friends. I can't now remember the first year we were invited, but we have spent every Eve with these people since sometime in the mid 90s. It's a classic Dickvale event-- delicious, gourmet pot luck and lots of great conversation and laughter. But it ends differently than all the others: starting from youngest to oldest, everyone has a chance to read a Christmas tale of their choosing. Over the years we've been graced with The Grinch, tag team readings of The Polar Express, various excerpts from A Christmas Carol, and many others. Devon would read King John's Christmas by A. A. Milne, and someone would read Gift of the Magi. The final reading was A Child's Christmas in Wales, read to us by Nicky himself. These nights were as powerful as any Christmas Eve service I've ever attended-- love, acceptance, and peace flowed through the walls, surrounding us all in a surreal comfort that follows us still.

Unfortunately, life marches on, and not always in a pleasant way. It's been 10 years since we shared a Christmas Eve with Devon. I remember that night like it was yesterday: the room was filled with friends and family, kids and adults of all ages. She had been fighting cancer for awhile, and we had lived our very own Magi experience that holiday season when A. bought her a replacement washing machine on faith that the money would come through. It did, and then some. I read something of my own creation that night, explaining how this 'young wench' hijacked Nicky's email list and said we were gathering money to help with the laundry. It was my retelling of the O. Henry classic, and how I got through that reading I'll never know--to read my own words to and about one of the kindest, most generous people I have ever been blessed to know-- well, let's just say it was a watershed moment for this fledgling writer and leave it at that. I think about that night often, remember my seat near the door and how the Christmas lights blurred as my eyes filled. And I remember Devon's smile as I finished...

Last night we were at a different home further out Dickvale, but the love was the same. The kids are older, and some of the faces have changed. Nicky and company spend the holiday at K's home in VT so the grandchildren don't have to worry about Santa's ability to find the right chimney. But as I looked around the room last night, I could see that this tradition is a part of all of us, and has extended well beyond those first years at the Farm. Even though she is no longer here on Earth, I could hear Dev reading along with WB "...and oh, Father Christmas, my blessings on you fall, for bringing him a big, red, India rubber ball!"

My blessings to you all, whatever your traditions. Hold them close, and treasure them, because you know not what the future will bring. Twenty years ago I moved to Peru, stumbling by luck into the perfect place for me to build my life. Kind people welcomed me into their world and allowed me to introduce them to some other people already important to me. My worlds of love have collided and overlapped ever since. It's almost like we live in Bedford Falls, with Tiny Tim a member of FPES. Our Christmas is not the biggest or the grandest, but it is exactly what I look forward to doing every year: gathering with friends, sharing good food, great conversation, and giving and receiving so much love.

Merry Christmas, to all of you. I have a Wonderful Life, and am surrounded by Magi every day. I am very blessed.