Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Call and Response: Billy Schulz / Stille Nacht"

"Grace means more than gifts.
In grace something is transcended, once and for all overcome.
Grace happens in spite of something; it happens
in spite of separateness and alienation."

Yrjo Kallinen

Billy and I have always cracked each other up.
That's just good livin'.

Some years ago, I lived right behind my brother, Billy. I had torn down a raggedy log barn and constructed a tidy little passive solar house on the resulting plateau. Billy lived within spitting distance (seriously, I tried) in his own single-wide trailer. Espaliered Pyracantha spilled luxuriously along the facade of tawny metal siding. We thought of it as Hyannisport South.
Come Christmas, Billy and I would trek over the Balsams to Asheville for our annual Holiday shopping spree. No list required: for Bill always knew exactly what he wanted to give. The Mall our destination of choice for the purchasing, whilst
el almuerzo de la comida Mexicana remained our customary repast.
Good times.

Everything about this photograph is priceless,
including both the gazes and the furnishings.

One year, we were pushing the deadline - shopping on Christmas Eve. The mall was extremely crowded with last-minute shoppers hustling here and bustling there. Billy had it in his head that he needed a very specific book for his beloved niece, Carrie. It took some hunting. My every alternative suggestion fell on deaf ears. Finally, we located the book. He was so pleased and excited, crowing, "Carrie are love this!"
And we turned.
And we saw the line. It stretched away beyond cooking, circled around self-help, and yawned beyond mystery and into science fiction. I checked my watch, picked up my heart from the floor and we lumbered into the queue.

William R. Schulz

After an interminable exchange of shuffle and stop, we made it to the checkout register. Tensions were rising. I'm not overly perceptive in certain social situations, but I'm sure I detected some jostling.
Now, Billy likes to write a check in payment for his purchases. It is a ritual. A way of belonging, and of being an adult (maybe you can relate to this). The clerk rang up the book and announced, "That will be fourteen dollars and eighty three cents." Billy looked assured and pulled out his check book. He stretched out his arms, cleared his throat, and
with a flourish, put pen to paper.
He paused and looked at me with questioning eyes. See, Billy doesn't spell so good.
The crowd in line behind us sensed a potential delay and I started feeling like chum tossed off the side of a shark boat.

"Each Day a New Day"© video by tomschulzartist

Billy cut to the chase and asked me to, "Help me with this". Sweating, I asked if I couldn't just write the check. "No", he said. "I do it myself." OK cool Billy, but the dingoes what ate my baby is nipping at my heels, if you catch my drift. So I jumped in, "Four. Teen...." "May minute, Tom", said Billy. "Thas too fast."
I stopped. The buzzing in my head was silenced. The pressure of the consuming crowd diminished. The demands of the schedule. The absolute critical adherence to a prescribed self image that (in the very moment) felt contrived. All of that melted away. Wonderful ghee. I took a breath. I spanned a breadth. I spelled.
F. (got it).
O. (got it).
U. (got it).
R. (got it). And as I spelled oh so deliberately and consciously, an amazing thing happened. The tension relaxed. Billy felt more comfortable. Folks began to whisper and point. A miracle was being recognized.
Smiles were shared.
And the book was paid for in full.
We wended our way home, my brother and I. Content and happy and looking forward to how our gifts might be received.
And so I ask you:
What line are you in, Pilgrim?
How receptive are you to the miracles in check?
Wait with me. Slow down with me.
If only for a spell.

"Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake."
Victor Hugo

Night, night Billy. Sleep tight. I'll see you in the morning light. We'll look beneath the vinyl tree and see what Santa has brought to thee (as miraculously, you near your fifty sixth year). G'night Victor Hugo. We have a hunch you'll be blazing across the cosmos, ringing a quantum bell. Our best to Sylvia Plath. Night night, Carrie. Wear tulle and leotards (more often)! Night night, Willoree. You are a Canadian Plains Princess and (I) a Trapper and Trader. That seems fair. G'night Phoebe: darkness defines the light. Dream on, Isaac - Merry Christmas across each type of zone. See you in the morning, dear Sheila. Chase your rabbits and know that your vision is most useful in the New Land. Thanks Ma, that's the best gift ever. Olive, if you can't paws - bark. Hey, Walker - if not now, when? Sweet dreams, Blaine - after twenty some hours of listening, I get it. Thanks for showing your best face, Emmanual Levinas. And by the way Mary, sprightly is a word.
No one's positive work is in vain.
Such is the marvelous nature of the Universe.
With love. In love. Through love and around love. Night night to you all.


Ach, Ja

Dear Grandmother
Whom I did not know,

ach, ja

I think of you at Christmas
When I use your recipes.
When I bake your stollen
I feel the sticky rightness of it.
When I beat egg whites for kisses
I wait for a clear day, knowing.
When I roll your butter cookies
I see the cutting board’s grain beneath them

so thin

Even my father, whose memory
of yours was perfection,

might approve.

All I know of your demise is that each night,
After you cooked and wearied yourself in service,
Your hands rested on your aproned lap,
You sighed

ach, ja

And you would fall asleep in your chair.
Your belly grew like a baby was in there.

aber, nein

It was a tumor. My great uncle opened you up,
You were full of pearls, and he closed you again, crying.

ach, ja

Now I’ve been opened and closed.
My hands are your hands.
Merry Christmas, Grandmother.

stille nacht.

—Mary S. de Wit
© 2011

While comprehending both the conveniences and pitfalls of a Cause and Effect existence, here at Empathinc. we prefer to live in a Call and Response Universe. This series is an exploration of that space.

Happy Hanukwanzmas from all of us at empathinc.


Mel said...

sweet ;-}
Sweet dreams for lives full of happily interperted experiences.
Loving the captured moments from Tom & Mary. Tom's reflection of how one magical moment of "pause" can change a long line of people and Mary's how a long passed relative is still part of our lives in this realm with love.
May all be blessed with the greatest gift of all, the Peace that surpasses All Understanding ;-}

DEL said...

This was awesome. Thanks for sharing. :)

Claude Rowe said...

Thank you, J.P. For taking me along to the Ashville Mall with Tom, and for reminding me to be in the moment, to take it slow, trust that others can be kinder than you anticipated. Thank you, Mary, for allowing me to slip into the past with Oma. With each bite of the Ischel Tartlets, the almond crescents, the spritz cookies, I encounter love ghosts again, as I encountered them last night at Midnight Christ Mass. Stille Nacht, Heilege Nacht.... Danke schoen.