A Child’s Christmas in Agnostica

I was a different person 21 Christmases ago. I was director of an alternative school in Henniker. I was a married homeowner. Libby, my youngest daughter, was only five weeks old, and her mother was recovering from burned feet, one of medical history’s strangest complications from an emergency hysterectomy. Because of those injuries, we had a nanny, known as “Jello Eyeseed” to the older girls. She is now dead, and that makes me sad. (I know these nuggets invite way more, but that’s not a trail I’m traveling today.) Mary (now Meri), my middle daughter was two-and-a-half, a nearly perfect age for her. Becca, my oldest, was five years old and starting to ask questions about the universe. At about this time, Becca, who had always wanted to be a firefighter, recognized firefighters have to risk their lives running into burning buildings and amended her career goal, “I want to be a firefighter teacher,” preparing those women and men from the safety of a classroom.

I haven’t written a ton of poetry of which I’m proud, which is sad given how much poetry I’ve written. Still, I wrote the following for Becca, trying to explain how I viewed Jesus, they guy whose birth we celebrate this season.

Christmas, 1996

(for Becca)

 

The kid, they say, was born in a manger.

Frankly, I have my doubts.

The boy, they say, astonished the scholars.

Frankly, I have my doubts.

The man, they say, had a huge midlife crisis

and decided that he was God’s son.

The prophet, they say, could walk upon water.

Frankly, I have my doubts.

The messiah, they say, could bring back the dead.

Frankly, I have my doubts.

The man, they say, offers a model

of humility, kindness and love.

The Lord, they say, could multiply fishes.

Frankly, I have my doubts.

His blood, they say, has washed away sin.

Frankly, I have my doubts.

The man, they say, was a poor carpenter

who laid down his life for a cause.

The annointed, they say, can offer salvation.

Frankly, I have my doubts.

The Son, they say, is living today.

Frankly, I have my doubts.

Jesus, they say, gave good for ill.

Frankly, this I believe.

Jesus, they say, said heaven’s within us.

Frankly, this I believe.

Jesus, I say, resonates meaning,

and he never intended to lie.

No one else who’s read it has liked it particularly—in fact many people actively dislike it. So be it. No one else has recognized the opening line as lifted whole from Joseph Heller’s Something Happened. So be it. No one else has pulled it out every Christmas since 1996. So be it.

No one else was me 21 years ago.

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