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December 24, 2021


Beth, I'm very teary and grateful today, talking to my dead mother about Christmas Eve, which she loved. She loved the Episcopal Church I grew up in, and the lessons and carols from your video brought her right back into my room here. I've had a good year, I hope I'm growing, and I've spent most of the year working through a good deal of turbulence among friends I've been close to for thirty years. School is going well. My impression is that teachers are not so much burned out as the students are wondering how much of what we teach them will be relevant after all. One of our daughters and my mother-in-law have joined us in our Leesburg condo for Christmas; our other daughter will join us tonight.

I'm grateful for the solace you may not always know you provide me and many others. Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year's.

Out of hospital (bowel cancer) having missed Christmas but in time for New Year. NY is not my favourite annual celebration but never mind; my pragmatic family has shifted some of Christmas’s indulgences forward in time and there are shining parcels to open. More especially, the family has been re-united and we laughed and argued last night.

For those lucky enough to have stayed out of the Krankenhaus during the last two decades let me sing the praises of one positive techno-development during that period: the mobile phone, that ubiquitous and often maligned thingie, comes into its own. One may snuggle down under the sheets and carry on reassuring chats that would have been impossible in the early eighties. Catching the nuances and the sighs that are the very devil to render in print.

I am told that I misinterpret the Corinthians quote “… and the greatest of these is charity”. That charity, there, doesn’t mean what I think it means. Well, I must plough my lonely furrow. In my experience Christmas in hospital exposes the patient – minute by minute – to charity formed from gentleness, sympathy and the kindest of gestures. To the point where I, a retired journalist, force-fed a severe diet of cynicism throughout my working life, broke down into tears trying to summarise and celebrate an organisation that treats an 86-year-old wreck with the same care and attention as it would a new-born child. And in front of a hulking Australian surgeon who listened to me in silence then squeezed my shoulder and said quietly, "Merry Christmas bro.” Just that, and I cried the more.

I hate the fact that you were not singing with the choir, though I’m aware of some of the outlying reasons. For me, however imperfect, singing is a late graft that has been fused with my root stock to bring forth unexpected treasures. Perhaps no more than selfish offshoots but, then, we are what we are. I have heard you sing and felt… what? Not envy. Community, perhaps.

Dear Peter, I'm so happy to hear from you, and thank you for telling me about your mother. I never want to cause anyone to cry, but it sounds like those were good tears. I'm glad teaching is going well, and was struck by your comment that "the students are wondering how much of what we teach them will be relevant after all" -- yes, this must be true but I hadn't considered it before. Ach. I do feel that our world has changed irreparably, and that this time will prove to be one of those watersheds with a "before" and "after", like the Great Depression or major wars.

And thank you for saying that my blog is a source of solace; no, I don't necessarily know that and am always grateful and humbled when people tell me how it affects them. I write for others but also for myself; often it's an attempt to sort things out and encourage and remind myself of what I find self-preserving and helpful, because it's all too easy for me to forget and veer off-course and find myself in a dark place. But as someone with a longstanding spiritual/philosophical bent, I know you understand that too. Happy Christmas!

Dear Robbie, I didn't know you had been in the hospital or about your diagnosis, but I hope that you'll make a rapid recovery and do well - it seems that they are quite skilled with that particular cancer these days. But to be there at Christmas is cruel -- I share your definition of charity, and am grateful for every bit of it that you experienced.

Not being able to sing is a minor issue, by comparison, though I know you know what it has meant to me in the past. One hopes for a better future, but right now it's difficult to be optimistic as Omicron ravages my city and so many others, and as, after two years of pandemic, I gaze into the next decade or two with uncertainty and some real anxiety over what might be ahead - unlike you, I have neither children nor siblings. Nevertheless, we must hope, and be strong, and also trust that charity does exist and is found in the most unlikely places. Happy Christmas, and I wish you the very best for the year ahead.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.