Three stories about Christmas spirit

 

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Category: Reflections Date: 25 Dec 97


After digging and scraping,

They rose to my pen.

Uncertain and shaking

The words writhed and spluttered

Then gushed out flaking.

Your response I’ve predicted.

You want me evicted.

You don’t mean to be unkind

But you’d rather unwind.

A bad poet in the making

Is not what you had in mind.

Why, you cry, should this,

A parcel of prose, wrapped in two bit rhyme,

Be shoved in your face?

I’ll readily admit, I’m more of a lout

Than a scribe with clout.

Never mind,

I’ll persevere, because this year,

In this season of holly, sorrel and cheer,

The message is about hope triumphing over fear.

 

***

Disappointment is your greatest spur

It happened to me in Christmas 1995. I had lost my job. Nothing, not even tinsel and lights, wrapping paper and rushing shoppers, traffic jams with waving friends, Santa hats and unexpected presents, could lift me out of it.

 

I kept wishing it would go away. IT was a sinking feeling which began in my throat and ended somewhere in the stomach. My shoulders sagged, my smile lay stiff and false on my face. Tears welled up easily. It’s called Disappointment (the capital D is deliberate). What I didn’t know then was that Disappointment is actually a spur. It forces you to unlock your lens, turn around slowly, and shift focus in this vast, varied, multilayered sea we call life. Shifting focus is painful. Change is not comfortable.

 

Tapping resources you had is not easy. At times you tap and come up with more pain, but at others, you strike oil and set off a hell of a spark, more delightful because it is unexpected. I wouldn’t be writing this if it weren’t for Disappointment. A charitable women’s group asked me to contribute to a book celebrating 150 years of Indian Arrival. I began writing - and discovered that it was painful but something I wanted to do more than anything in the world. The piece was rejected - crudely and publicly judged unsuitable. I showed the story to Raoul Pantin, who gave me courage. So I sent the story to the Guardian where I met the then-Features Editor, Pat Ganase, who combines intelligence with humanity in a manner I’ve not seen before. Pat got me to write columns and, when she left, men with huge talent and generosity of spirit allowed me to continue - Carl Jacobs, Dominic Kalipersad, Andy Johnson and Arthur Dash.

 

So this Christmas, I thank the Women’s Group which, by rejecting my article, turned my disappointment into a journey which peels off the false layers and reveals my own true voice.

 

This last year, I interviewed Joan Charles, who lost two sons in a tragic boating accident. Disappointment is an understatement. Even my overworked imagination cannot enter her despair. But somewhere in her ruminations, her sorrow, Joan tapped into an inner resource. She glowed with courage. She had emerged from a dark tunnel with a rare strength which she uses to help others who have suffered. In doing so, she keeps her sons close to her. She has triumphed over the worst loss.

 

Disappointment takes many lashes, even by a woman friend - Sosha, I call her - who is badly hurt by cancer, both her own and her husband’s. Sosha squeezes every drop out of every minute of life. You see it in the books she reads, the music she loves, her daughters’ resilience, and her friends who are never far away. How this couple manages to draw your sorrow out and leave you feeling inflated with life I don’t know.

 

In these two cameos you will see the faces of many people you know. This Christmas they present to us the gifts of courage, strength and, in sharing them, love. The End.

 

Sour Face

She knew they called her Sour Face behind her back. Her lips were constantly pursed. She couldn’t stand them anyway, the pretty frivolous girls, the little toddling brats, the intellectuals and artists who thought so much of themselves.

 

She had felt ugly all her life. The only one not to be asked to dance, the one without a graduation date. She came from a humble home and had to struggle for everything she had. No one took much notice of her as a child. In short, she hated everyone because she hated herself.

 

Two weeks before Christmas a new employee began working alongside her. He was a good-looking boy, old enough to be her son. There was something about him that made her heart contract in a funny way (she could have had a son this age if it weren’t for her pride, which made her reject love long ago), but that just made her more sour than ever. He looked her in the eye when he spoke. But that made her angry and purse up her lips because she thought he stared because he had never seen someone so ugly.

 

The young man would ask her advice about writing a report, then admire the neat way she did it. Or he would compliment her on her crisp navy suit. But he did something no one had ever done before. He forced her to be honest with herself. She would say “I don’t want a promotion. I don’t give a damn about it anyway.” He would insist, “But you know you deserve it, that you’ll be good at the post. Why don’t you admit you want the job desperately and the money would be nice?”

 

One day she decided to un-purse her lips and smile at him, and he exclaimed at what a wonderful smile she had. Then she went off and bought some cards and gifts for some people who had been nice to her, and came in actually looking happy.

 

On the evening of the staff Christmas party, there was no trace of Sour Face. She shook off her stiff jacket, laughed, paid the frivolous pretty girls compliments, and when she danced with the young man, the Sour Face came off forever. This Christmas, she had found someone who believed in her. The End.

 

Warm Ice

Sara, who was waiting for the campus bus to take her back to halls, was so cold she stopped moving. She felt lost and small on this big campus. In recent weeks, she had walked around empty and light, as if someone had scraped out all she ever thought was solid and real and true. Everything was too large and different. The vast landscape, tall pine trees, short bare ones, the big flat lakes. Even the people seemed bulky, stuffed up in their winter clothes. It was already dark, even though it was only four in the afternoon. Her fingers stiff and curled in her pockets touched the letter from home.

 

This was not what she had imagined it would be like. In her village on the island her brother and two sisters had kneeled in the verandah over the university prospectus in the dusky evening lamplight with the sounds of crickets and frogs, and the sudden breezes which came in waves and left smells of the sea, damp earth and jasmine.

 

They would be celebrating Christmas without her. She ached with loneliness and tears shook in her eyes, then spilled. The bus had arrived. Sara felt warmer. It began to snow - millions and millions of white tear drops from the sky. It covered the trees and houses and fronts of cars and knapsacks, and eyelashes and plaits. After getting off the bus Sara crossed the quad to her student townhouse which she shared with three other people.

 

At midnight Sara took a break from her books and came down to the common-room. Drawing the curtains she saw an incredible sight. The quad was a vast sheet of glistening ice on which a student with corn coloured hair was skating - he wheeled, he raced, he spun round and round. Putting on her winter jacket, Sara walked out to stand outside her front door to watch. The student recognised her and shouted, breaking the quiet. “Want to go for a walk?” Sara did. They slid and skidded up and down hills. On the trees no longer bare and skeletal, hung large jagged crystals like icicles reflected by the moonlight, and the yellow glow of the long bent lamps. The lake was a sheet of luminous ice reflecting points of stars. Sara, whose hands were warm when they touched ice, looked up at the stars, at the ruddy face of her companion, and knew that Christmas, like happiness, comes in unexpected ways.

The End.

 

***

 

The muse is now glaring, a long lingering stare,

Unable to bear this obvious lack of cadence, symmetry and flair,

And lingers only to allow a quote from a card written in Christmas 1915,

Which hangs on my living room wall like a reminder umpteen.

It was written (or quoted to be fair) by my gun toting great-grandmother,

An ancestor who shot at Bengal tigers when she felt mean,

Loved the British, the Moguls, and freshly beaten cream,

Read books by the dozen, cracked words about like whips,

A high priestess of poetry with a tongue made for quips.

Here’s what she had to say (it’s my sentiment too),

Together we’re toasting this Christmas with you:

 

“To wish you not great grandeur

Nor store of worldly wealth,

But only a mind contented,

Peace, happiness and health.”

 

Christmas is a time of enlightenment, peace and goodwill.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur