Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot?

…and never brought to mind?


That’s because the Inverse Square Law says so. And the Inverse Square Law eventually works its way on all relationships…including extended family members.

So what does the Inverse Square Law have to say about this? Well, the simplified version is that the intensity of a relationship falls off more and more quickly the farther away you are from it…until you’re down to practically nothing.

This came to mind as I was looking at the list of people we send Christmas cards and family newsletters to, and thinking about the five people who would be culled from it in the coming year. People who I haven’t heard from in like forever. And after I thought about it a bit, I realized that I was OK with culling them…because the Inverse Square Law had had its way with them, and maybe it was time to let them fade out. Maybe, for them, the Inverse Square Law had had its way with me long ago, and they were more than happy to let me fade away, but I kept sending those damned cards and newsletters.

But really, think about it…your best friend from high school, your old college roommate(s), all the people you hung out with at your old job, even your cousins from across town that you used to play with all the time…as you go farther away and see them less, the relationship is bound to fade as time goes on; and it’ll fade more quickly as more time goes on.

Unless, of course, you are intentional…or even unintentional…about keeping it up.

What are the intentional ways of keeping it up…of keeping the relationships from fading? The usual things: regular cards, letters, email, phone calls, and visits….in both directions. If one party thinks they’re doing all the heavy lifting, resentment will speed up the work of the Inverse Square Law.

And yet sometimes, even with being intentional about trying to keep up a friendship, there comes a point where it starts to feel forced and unnatural. There comes a point where you realize that maybe it’s time to let the other person go. After five years you still have a lot in common. But after 10, 20, 30, or more, your lives have diverged to the point where you have nothing in common anymore except some fuzzy memories from “back then.” Memories which may not be enough to shore up this fading relationship. There comes a point where you ask yourself if you’d still be friends with this person if you both met each other now for the first time.

What are the unintentional ways of keeping a friendship up? Well, one of the best known ones is Facebook.

Facebook is an odd hybrid of both intentional and unintentional. Yes, you’re intentional about joining Facebook. Yes, you’re intentional about accepting someone as a friend, or asking to be theirs once you find out that they’re on. And yes, you intentionally joined that group dedicated to your old high school, your old hometown, the choir you traveled across the country with when you were in college, or some other organization you were a member of at one time. Yes, you were intentional about all that. But after that, a lot becomes unintentional and coincidental in a way that feels very natural and unforced.

It becomes unintentional because Facebook’s magical algorithm has things randomly pop up in your feed from these people every now and then, for you to see, reminding you that they existed. And the beauty is that they didn’t have to specifically target you, which could be awkward. You just happened to be in the “virtual hallway” when they walked by. And if you happen to comment on one of those posts, you briefly enter their lives again, in a natural and unforced way.

As long as you are Facebook friends with someone, the work of the Inverse Square Law is slowed down.

And yet…and yet…sometimes there does come a time to realize that it’s time to let go of someone who used to be a friend. And sometimes you’re relieved when they let you go. Which brings us back to my original question:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot…and never brought to mind?

I’m thinking that sometimes auld acquaintance should be let go.

But...I’ll privately drink an occasional cup of kindness to those I’ve let go…and who’ve let me go.

Including the five I’m culling from my mailing list for next year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

What's Your Holiday Bubble?

A few weeks ago I was walking through the “seasonal” section of Target when a little girl grabbed a bright blue and white gift bag and asked her mother, “What’s this?” When her mother answered that it was a gift bag for Chanukah, the puzzled kid asked “What’s Chanukah?”

To her credit, her mother said that it was a Jewish holiday celebrated around the same time as Christmas, rather than the old “It’s the Jewish Christmas” that so many of my Jewish friends absolutely hate. And yet, I was still surprised that her mother wasn’t able to give her the Reader’s Digest version of the Chanukah story that I assumed everyone knew…after all, I learned it in kindergarten, when Miss Laughlin, my very Irish teacher, asked us all to bring in empty paper towel and toilet paper rolls so that we could make a menorah for our bulletin board. Or maybe she could explain, but just didn’t feel like doing it right there in the middle of Target.

Now, the fact that this girl, who was at least 10 years old, didn’t know what Chanukah was, when I knew at age five, got me thinking about the “holiday bubble” that most of us Christians live in. The holiday bubble that some of my Jewish friends complain about, where they know much more about our holidays than we do about theirs.

And then I thought some more, and realized that we all live in holiday bubbles. My Jewish friends may know all about Christmas because they can’t avoid it, but how many of them know anything about any major Islamic holidays? How many of my Islamic friends know anything about any Hindu holidays? How many of my Hindu friends know anything about Kwanzaa?

And how many people have any idea what December 17th was?

Let’s face it, we all live in holiday bubbles where, if we’re part of the mainstream group, we pretty much just know our holidays, and the barest minimum about anyone else’s. And if we’re not part of the mainstream, we know our own religious/cultural holidays as well as those of the prevailing culture.

But not much about anyone else’s.

And that’s perfectly logical and normal.

That little girl and her mother, who knew next to nothing about Chanukah are no more to be disparaged than the Jewish girl and her mother who know next to nothing about Ramadan, or the Muslim boy and his mother who know next to nothing about Divali.

This country is home to so many people from so many different religions and cultures, that unless you’re an anthropologist (or a librarian), it’s next to impossible for any one person to know all there is to know about everyone’s holidays.

So I think we should all cut each other a little slack. I especially think that those of us who are in religions and cultures outside of the American mainstream should cut everyone a little slack, because as I mentioned before, it’s highly likely that they don’t know much about some other culture’s celebrations.

And yet…I wouldn’t be doing my duty, both as a former teacher and a current librarian, if I let that mother, or anyone else just go their own way without taking the time to learn a little something when the subject of someone else’s holiday comes up. So I recommended a book to them.

And to you…I recommend something as simple as just spending a few minutes with Wikipedia. Yes, I know what some people say about it being unreliable because “anyone can edit it”, but my favorite quote about it is “good enough to settle a bar bet, but probably not something you’d want to cite in your dissertation.”

Once again, I’m gonna say that we all live in “holiday bubbles”...or maybe cultural bubbles is the better term. So before you complain about someone from the mainstream getting the information wrong about your celebration, stop to consider just how much you know about the celebrations of the next group over.

And I hope you enjoyed Beethoven’s Birthday!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

What if it Was Different?

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, and the complaints are gonna start about the commercialization of “our” religious holiday. Complaints that have been going on for at least 100 years.

But what if things were different? I mean, there’s no real reason why The Feast of the Nativity has to be held on December 25th. There’s no historical evidence to show that that’s when Jesus was actually born. In fact, little clues in the story about shepherds watching their flocks by night seem to point to a different time of year.

So why do we celebrate Christmas when we do?

The short answer is because the Church tried to calm down an already established, and pretty wild, pagan holiday season by putting a religious holiday there.

That’s sort of like scheduling your wedding for the 4th of July.

And instead of Christmas calming down the previous Yuletide, it took on the aspects of the already existing 800-pound gorilla. That’s right, Christmas isn’t the 800-pound holiday season gorilla, Yuletide is; and it influences everything that comes across its path.

But what if things were different?

What if Christmas was celebrated at some other time?

What if we celebrated Christmas in June or July?

It would be a totally different holiday…I mean holy day…wouldn’t it? It would have none of the trappings of the gift-giving Yuletide celebration that would still be going on at the end of the year, and that everyone would feel a little freer about celebrating, since it wasn’t tied to any one religion. It would belong to “us” alone, and we wouldn’t have to complain about it being commercialized and trivialized.

It would get about as much publicity outside the Church as Pentecost. Actually…it would probably get about as much attention in the church as Pentecost. We’d prepare for it for a week or two, observe it in church that day, and then on Monday morning, it would be back to the same old grind. OK, so we might still be singing Christmas hymns for the next two weeks…but only amongst ourselves.

Let me repeat that one: only amongst ourselves.

No one else outside the Church would know, or care about it. There’d be no Charlie Brown Christmas because it wouldn’t be a big cultural holiday anymore. I doubt that there’d be a Charlie Brown Yule either, since the premise of the original was the conflict between the religious and secular holidays. In fact, there wouldn’t be any Christmas specials anymore, because it would be an internal Church day. Yuletide specials, however, would abound; and no one would complain about the commercialization of the Yuletide season.

There also wouldn’t be six weeks of publicly singing and hearing Christmas hymns along with the secular Yuletide stuff. Some people, who aren’t Christians, might actually like not being bombarded with stuff from a religion they don’t belong to for six weeks.

Although we might still have to put up with Last Winter I Gave You My Heart for that long.

And this brings up something worth thinking about: Perhaps if we had Christmas all to ourselves, we’d lose all opportunity to talk to other people about our religion. We’d lose the opportunity to talk about the annual Christmas pageant, what music our church is doing, what our family Christmas traditions are…religious and secular.

Yes, as much as we may lament the apparent trivializing of our holy day, having it placed where it is gives us an ability to talk about it with others that keeping it to ourselves doesn’t.

So maybe the Church didn’t shoot itself in the foot when they placed the Feast of the Nativity smack dab in the middle of the Yuletide season all those years ago.

And maybe those of us in the church need to be a little better at recognizing that there are two celebrations going on at the same time, and not getting into a little snit when some of the 4th of July creeps into our wedding.

Because some of our wedding also creeps into the 4th of July.