-Posted by Isaac
Well, we made it back home just in time to sing to a packed house.
The cantata is a Christmas eve tradition at the candlelit United Methodist in Williamsport. It's a beautiful moment that seems to send a ripple of joy out into the community. We've been doing it since the beginning of time, and I suppose we'll continue until the end of time. Or until our directors, my mother and sidekick Janet May, decide to hang it up. Which will no doubt coincide with the end of time. I'm comforted in the knowledge that for at least one hour every year I can count on the cantata to serve me up a big slice of genuine Christmas. True joy. I mean it. I've even cried real tears. And it's not even a religious thing, thinking about baby Jesus and all. No, it's more of a community thing. I look out at all those candlelit faces, I feel the music and I'm sort of lost in the moment. It's beautiful. And it's real.
For at least one hour there's nothing fakey about it.
And then comes Christmas day.
And then comes the day after. We keep at it. More Christmas, more cookies, more crazy kids, late cards, more choir, carols, and definitely, lest we forget, more consumption-- the perfect pissy storm to take that one beautiful moment from a week ago and flush it right down the toilet. We come, we see, we leave a mess.
I look around and think wow, I'm in Whoville once again. And once again, I'm the Grinch. That is, I'm the Grinch before his heart expanded three notches. Only, it's the other way around. Just a week ago my heart was big and bursting with love for my fellow man, and now it has not only shrunk past its original form, it's gone to looking like a puny shriveled crabapple. Christmas is taking too long! And you guys are smiling right through it. "Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!" you say with sparkling eyes. And you really seem genuine about it. Serious? Are you actually enjoying this? How do you do it?
So I think I've come to the inevitable conclusion that it's me, not you. I'm the one with the problems. You all just gang up and make it unbearable this time of year.
Mix these Whoville problems with the lack of routine, of real bee work, the dark days, the brutal cold, the hard wind making it impossible to work or play outside... It's awful. I really need another trip to the beach about now. But that's not happening. Instead, I'm up at one, two, three in the morning, rolling around, bothering Jayne. Finally I give up, and to my surprise, there's an amazing number pressing things that need attended to: stoking the fire downstairs, building a fire in the shop (something therapeutic about this), checking moisture on the honey drums, checking the cooling room temperature, checking the propane, the kerosene, the diesel core heaters, the softener salt, cleaning the honey house sinks, wiping down the tanks, cleaning filters, arranging buckets, working on the books, feeding the cats, the dog, the chickens, the goats, reading stacks of magazines, reading books, Netflix, Facebook, taking a predawn run through an inky black icebox... What would happen if these important matters were left unaddressed? I'll tell you- the world would stop. And this Mr. Atlas ain't shrugging. On a good night, things get done.
But on a bad night, and lately with Christmas, there have been more than a few, I just lay there staring up through the ceiling. Until I see too much. Mind racing.
The bees. No visions of sugar plums for this December beekeeper. How fare my darlings? It's brutal out there. The cold, the wind... are they hanging on? Are they ventilated, are they mite free? Enough honey? What about those neonics? What about that July fungicide on the soybeans? Where did all that crap end up? It had to go somewhere.
Are we dealing with something we can't control? Some law of unintended consequences? Are the stakes a little too high?
But it's only 3am and daylight is a long way off. Those wolves are just starting to run. Other thoughts, other questions. From the shallow (Is there a God?... Does a dog have Buddha-nature?...), to the deep (Why didn't I see a Christmas card from so and so?... At what icy moment are those eggs I forgot to collect gonna crack?...) It's churning now. I rewind through recent podcasts. Lot's of traveling over Christmas means lots of podcasts. One dealt with human error: a 19 year old Air Force mechanic accidentally dropped his socket wrench next to a Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile, nearly vaporizing Arkansas and surrounding states. Horrific and hilarious at the same time. Are the stakes a little too high?
I rewind through a recent game of Monopoly. Maizy won. How was that possible? Mason and I were the experts-- buy, buy, buy. Especially properties that have a high return on investment. Basically, do what rich people do in real life. But, darn it, while we duked it out, Maizy proceeded to put up three hotels on her one set of properties. As the game went on, every roll of the dice resulted in larger and larger sums of money changing hands. The stakes got high. A few bad rolls later, I was bankrupt, Mason was mortgaging everything, and Maizy was asking for help keeping track of her piles of money.
I rewind through recent years. The memories. I rewind as far as I can. Faces and places. There's a mountain to mine. A lot of coal, a little gold, a few diamonds. I get lost in it. I chew on question after question. What if I did this and not that? Said this and not that?
4am, the wolves are howling now. Thoughts darken. Politics, religion, science, ahh, the end of time. Extinction, always a favorite. What's going to get us? Flood, fire, famine? Pandemic? Nuclear war? Climate change? Something freaky but inevitable like Yellowstone blowing up? We are overdue, you know? And more poignant, will it happen in my lifetime? Couldn't happen, you say? God is on our side? Yeah. Tell that to the trilobites. Not so soon, you say? Again, talk to the trilobites. A God blessed species if I ever saw one- fine and dandy for 300 million years and whoopsie, a little Permian Extinction. Bad roll. It happens. To them, we can't begin to hold a candle, and if you care to ponder, we're not exactly a nonvolatile species.
But we're so much smarter than those trilobites?... bahahahah! In the same way plutonium is smarter than peat moss.
The stakes are high, the game grinds on, Maizy sits there grinning, and here we go, let's roll a winner!
By 5am I think I've picked a winner. The answer is: None of the above. And to the second, more poignant question, the answer is: Yes. Here's our winner- AI. Sure, why not? Artificial intelligence. Smart, fast, dangerous, practically on your doorstep, and in its own geeky way, kinda cool. At least our extinction will certainly have that over the trilobites- The cool factor.
Sam Harris is a favorite of mine. Horrific and hilarious at the same time. I think we could be friends.
Just yesterday I sent this to my brother. Is he now up at all hours, staring through the ceiling?
Probably not. I'm the one with the problems.
By 6am it's time to cage the wolves. By 6:30, I turn to think about the day. The light is on its way.
And how about the new year? The light is on its way. There's planning. There's projects. There's potential. My God, is there ever potential!
A new day, a new year! It's 7am, I've got my kids, my wife, my family, the business and this unbelievable luck. Unimaginable, undeniable luck that got me, that got us, that got everybody, to this particular moment.
It's not so bad. Two more days to savor 2017, and we live on to throw the dice! So quit the pondering. If you didn't get that Christmas card from so and so, I've got one here for you, just as significant and just as meaningless.
A sincere, no, a genuine Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from our family to yours!