I'm sitting here--in 2016--listening to Jimmy Buffet singing (on recording, of course):
So this is Christmas
(war is over)
Another year older
A new one just begun.
War is not over, of course. Neither is climate change, or the vast specter of the threat loomed by Donald Trump. I have a hard time with Christmas sometimes--saying that Jesus is born and now everything will be great and it just isn't.
But Christmas is a good time to remind ourselves of these values and to recommit. As long as the line is not crossed into feel-good delusion, it is a positive thing.
And recommit we do. We, as a community, have made a decision to re-open the school as a school with its own campus. We don't know yet what that will look like, but it won't be the same as it was before--our original model was too vulnerable, as events showed us, so we'll have to embed the school inside some kind of larger project, to give it greater protective camouflage. It will probably take us some years to work out our plans and raise the necessary money, but we've set the process in motion--this year's returning of the light, if you will.
We've made this decision because, just as the outer world has grown to resemble our community more over the past few years, we now fear the two are getting less alike. Living out in the world as we do, it's going to get harder and harder to not be influenced by that shift--or to not be exhausted by the effort of constantly maintaining deliberate cultural dissonance. Re-creating our counter-cultural bubble gives us another option.
Not that we want to hide in the bubble. We did that before, and we've come to think that was a mistake, a shirking of responsibility. But we need a refuge, a place to recharge and to center, a place to radiate from...when you want to work (or play) outside in the winter, you need a warm refuge nearby, an assurance of safely. Otherwise, all your time and energy must be occupied with survival and you can't to the work or ply you came outside to do.
Anyway, at the moment we--June and Carly and I, and my brother and his family--are at my parents' house. Since June and I have switched our attention to Solstice, visiting our parents for the holiday has gotten simpler, since we don't have a family Christmas to compete for time and attention. If June had only been raised Jewish, holiday planning would be simpler yet (I mean because the grandparents would not be in competition over us for the same holiday). Except this year, of course, since Chanukah and Christmas coincide.
Thirteen years ago today, I was also at my parents' house. I got a ride from another student (I forget who) the day after Yule, and stayed at home for something like two or three weeks before returning to campus--we were supposed to spend most of January on campus because of vaguely described duties related to graduation.
I'm going to simply skip over those weeks in my narrative, then spend January in a series of posts that don't have much to do with the date. I explained a little about that already.
But for now, I wanted to talk a little about something Steve Bees told me when we met up again on campus after the holiday.
Steve could have gone home to Ohio for Christmas, but then he wouldn't have been able to spend much time with his girlfriend over her college break. So instead, he stayed on campus except for Christmas itself, when he went to Charlie's sister's house, with Charlie.
When he told me about going there for Thanksgiving, I didn't think to ask a lot of questions. This time, I asked whether Charlie was any different when he wasn't on campus--but I couldn't get Steve to understand what I meant. Eventually, I tried asking what the holiday was like and he told me the story and so I finally extracted the information I wanted.
Charlie and Steve arrived n hour or so before dinner on Christmas Eve and all his grand-nieces and -nephews reacted as though Santa Clause had just shown up. Charlie did bring presents, but they also wanted his company and competed for his attention. Throughout the evening the other adults (sister, Maria, her husband, brother, Mario, and various grown nieces and nephews) all treated Charlie as the guest of honor--and he responded. And he wasn't grumpy or growly at all. He was relaxed, good-natured, and slightly self-centered, accepting the attention as though it were his due and happily lecturing everybody on whatever topics came into his head. I remember his sister once told told me "he's always been the center of us," and from Steve's description, he still was.
In contrast, Charlie's brother, Mario, hardly spoke. He wasn't unfriendly, Steve said, just quiet. The only time he spoke that Steve could really think of was when Charlie and his sister were speaking Italian in order to not be understood by the kids and one of Maria's grown daughters said "that's not not going to work for much longer, Mom, the kids are learning Italian in school." Mario spoke up to say he didn't understand why the whole family stayed so fixated on Italian.
"They're American," he said. "Italian won't get you anywhere. Americans should learn Spanish or French. Or, these days, Farsi or something." Mario is the only one who retains an Italian accent and who remembers even a few words of their fathers' dialect. He doesn't speak Italian otherwise. Charlie and Maria are fluent in the Italian they learned in school, which was not the same dialect.
Charlie replied, in Spanish, something like "where can I go with my Spanish but not my Italian? There are Italians in Mexico and Spain, yes?"
(Steve told me the English translation he extracted from Maria later. I'm guessing it was something like donde puedo ir con mi Espanol pero no mi Italia? Hay Italianos in Mexico y Espania, si? But that's my high school Spanish guessing.)
Mario replied, in his high school Spanish, "Yes, but the Italians who emigrate to Mexico and Spain learn the language of their new country."
And one of the grand-nieces giggled, clearly understanding the somewhat playful exchange, and Charlie turned to his sister and said "sounds like St. Nickolas is going to have to use Latin," in Latin. "Or French," Maria said, in French.
"Actually, I understand some French," said the grand-niece, in Italian.
Steve was much impressed.
The whole family, including Charlie, went to Midnight Mass, and in the morning spent approximately 426 years opening gifts, given how many people were assembled there. Then, after brunch, the kids played with their new toys and Charlie and Mario played video games with each other--recapturing their boyhoods, except of course when they were boys, video games did not exist.
Then, who should show up mid-afternoon but Allen, Lo, and their kids. They stayed for dinner and actually stayed the night--the kids all merged together into one indivisible group of cousins (related and otherwise) and Allen joined the gaming brothers for a while.
Steve hadn't known that Allen and Charlie were friends. I had known, but I didn't know they spent Christmas dinner together. Steve said they were nearly inseparable the whole evening, except when Allen tried to involve himself in making dinner. After the meal, Charlie played his tin whistle for everyone.
So, was Charlie different when he wasn't thinking about being a teacher?
In some ways he obviously wasn't. In other ways...I have a hard time imagining him playing his whistle so openly on campus, nor does he normally go on about the things he knows without being asked. From Steve's description, he sounded more relaxed, less self-conscious, and more social than I'd ever seen him.