Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
December 2017 - Volume 17, No. 12
Between a Rock and a Fruitcake
It’s December again.
There’s no way anything can be normal during December. Just no way. I don’t even need to give examples, we already know it’s true. October and November were bad enough - like standing beside a cold lake, knowing we have to steel ourselves to jump in. No one really knows or remembers why, we just know we have to take the plunge.
Then comes December, half by surprise, half by rote, and the third half because we still wish it could work an ancient magic on us. Did we take the leap? I don’t even remember. But I do feel a sort of deep dull cold, as if on the other side of a shock to the system. I can lay in bed in the morning, challenging myself to remember how to get up. Was it always this way when December arrived? Strange, my memory isn’t even working well at the moment.
The Outside World
Then there’s the specific outsideworld of the soon-passing year 2017. As a student of the DSM-10 (the professionals’Bible of psychological diagnosis) which when set against our current President of the United States, reveals to a growing number of us a psychopathology of frightening proportions. I could even be jealous of those who can rest quietly, and with benign trust, in the face of it all. I’m afraid I sometimes know too much, and afraid of what I know. Will we survive even another year - especially in the mythic craziness of gun ownership and use, and nuclear arsenals, and bullies who tweet?Oh yes, each are, of course, meant to make the world a safer place.
Then there are ‘the mighty falling’ all around us - almost daily now, mostly men of power who forgot (or never learned) the balancing of sexual entitlement and gender responsibility. When you throw nuisance alligators into a lake, sooner or later it will overflow and the ass-biting may permanently cripple you.
The Inside World
Enter the birth of a Baby Jesus, or the mystery of the Hanukkah Lights, or someone named Santa Claus.
Mid-Winter has always needed holidays, celebrated with the darkness all around, meant to bring renewal, hope - to set the world right again.
And so, in the manic fog of each December, we struggle to remember.
My first Christmas was in a little town in Colorado, which I doubt ever reached a thousand in population. That December began with the attack on Pearl Harbor. I wish now I had asked my parents what it was like for a new preacher and his wife, still fresh from Chicago, and with a 5½-month old baby. I’m very certain his sermons focused on the hope a new baby could bring. And even now, though they are years gone, I carry that hope for them.
And it’s ever mine to somehow pass it on to you, the people of my own life.
I have no knowledge of when she started, but my English-born mother would always make fruitcake at Christmas. Maybe even for my own first Christmas. I’m certain the recipe came across the Atlantic from her mother, and now resides under the guardianship of my sister.
Every year in early December she would gather her collection of coffee cans, small loaf pans, along with other right shaped containers, round or rectangular, from wherever they were stored during the rest of the year. She would buy candied fruit, citron (she always mentioned the citron), dates, raisins, nuts, and spices. Then sugar & flour. (There was no wine or brandy because she was a Methodist.) Some of them were wrapped for mailing to other relatives. And those packages were heavy! (Even wrapped fruitcake always felt like fruitcake - heavy, almost soft.) After all those years, I’ve still not tasted a fruitcake as good as she made. It was the only fruitcake I knew that barely had enough ‘cake’ yet still held all those rich ingredients together.
The Fruitcake Secret - A ‘cake’ that itself was rich and sparse enough to hold everything together.
My parents did a pretty good job of keeping us, when young, from the rockiness, troubles and fears of the world during those years. And as I look back, there were many. And still are.
This month is a hard and yet a rich time. More than at other times, we need each other - even though depression and busyness can so easily isolate us, the commercialism can suffocate us, and fears can deaden the soul. We can, of course, look forward to a new year - and the deeper rituals of December will also do that.
But it’s also the time of Fruitcake. A time for the knowledge and rich memories of those moments when just a little bit of rich cake is able to hold together wondrous riches.
These days fruitcake can get a bad rap. Perhaps deservedly so for its store-bought artifice of ingredients and flavor. So can some Holiday rituals themselves become stale and lifeless.
The world “out there” can be hard and frightening. A chaos of spiritless ego and greed, a place of little joy, constant enemy-making, and an almost deliberate harshness. But let’s walk about anyway, perhaps with a warm “holiday” smile. And imagine, just imagine, that you are carrying a pack with pieces of really good fruitcake to share. Fruitcake that has the grace and magic to still hold together the wonderful little pieces of goodness - that can still (and by God ever will) continue to exist in the small places of this world.
Where we live.
And to you all, my readers, from the world of my own spirit language,