A Christmas story

December 25, 2016 § 27 Comments

I had used some words that were not the best words. Then my pride got in the way of taking them back. Finally I broke the rule of holes: When you’re in one, stop digging.

Just like that I lost a friend. Words and ego, the twin horsemen of loneliness, drove a good person from my door.

For a couple of months I stewed on it, low simmer like a good pot of tomato sauce, cooking off all the excuses, the self-justifications, the indignation, the anger, and finally, when everything else had been boiled away I was left with a thick, glutinous residue of pride. I fished it out of the pot and put it on a big blue Fiesta plate I’d inherited from my grandmother.

The lump of pride was rubbery and tough. I tried to cut it up into manageable pieces but nope. Even the sharp Japanese steel we had bought in Kappabashi wouldn’t so much as nick the surface. It stank, too.

As much as I had tried to put the blame on my friend, all that remained was that big, nasty lump of tough, indigestible, stinking pride.

While I sat there trying to figure out what to do I remembered a sermon I’d heard in the First Methodist Church of Bumfuck, Texas, a place I once lived. Our preacher was insane and saw devils and homosexuals behind every bush. We were the only devout atheists in the church, which was the “liberal” one in this tiny Texas town of 588 people and fifteen churches. My kids always used to ask me, “Dad, how come we go to church if we’re atheists?”

“I don’t know,” I used to say. “What else are we going to do in this dogforsaken town on Sunday morning?”

“Sleep!” everyone would roar in unison. They had a good point.

Anyway, the insane preacher had gotten onto his weekly roll about the homosexuals and the bushes, and the devils and the homosexuals behind the bushes, and then more bushy homosexuals, and he was pretty lathered up. I always felt like he was the kind of guy who would really benefit from some homosexualizing on a frequent basis, but then I reflected that as with most people who live in avowed fear of homosexual demons, he probably already was.

He had taken a homosexual break to wipe off the sweat and drink some water when it occurred to him that since Christmas was a few days off he might as well throw a bone to Jesus, and off he went on a rollicking rant about forgiveness. It went something like this:

“Now you are a sinner and going to hell and you will burn forever that is how Almighty Dog made you and you will burn with the homosexuals but do you know what will save you, do you know what our Almighty Dog has blessed us with to save us from the eternal homosexual demon flames? That’s right my brothers and sisters he has given us forgiveness from the infinite mercy of his heart and even the homosexual can cast aside his perversion and ask forgiveness, even the murderer, even the Muslim, even every sinning soul in Muslania and every homosexual sinner in California can get down on his knees and cast aside his infidel beliefs and his homosexual sinning and ask forgiveness from Almighty Dog our Dog Jesus Christ and be forgiven and live in the bliss of the afterlife forever after.

“Now what does this mean? It means you must look inside your own sinful heart and cast about for those who have wronged you, for those who have done you grievous insult and sin, for those who may even be homosexuals destined for hell and eternal flames and you must forgive them.

“The mother who cast you out, you must forgive her, the father who disowned you, you must forgive him, the neighbor who stole your wife, the child who took from you your savings, the banker who took your home, the neighbor who refused to mow that little strip between your houses that you have been fighting about for the last thirty years, you must look into your own sinful heart and forgive each of them as Dog has forgiven you.

“And do you know what you will find when you forgive the homosexual and the neighbor even though he has also put on an addition that blocks your view of the feedlot? You will find love in the stead of hate, you will find peace in the stead of war, you will find contentment in the stead of turbulence and you will gladly mow that strip of lawn and not worry any more if your neighbor files suit and gets declaratory relief for that strip and has it added in fee simple to his lot, and you will feel no hatred for the homosexual for he knows not what he does. This forgiveness is the gift of Jesus Christ our lord dog.”

I thought about that sermon and about how it really didn’t apply to me. I didn’t have anyone to forgive. I was the one who needed forgiveness. So I took the Japanese steel again and after a lot of hard labor cut that slab of pride into little pieces and I ate them one by one, gall and wormwood every bite.

Then I sat down and wrote a letter to my friend. It’s the longest letter I’ve ever written, or will ever write. It went like this:

Dear Friend,

Please forgive me. I was wrong.


And then the friend never wrote back, which hurt all over again. But even though I felt terrible about having lost a good friend, I felt good at having gotten down on bended knee and asking forgiveness. It is hard to humble yourself, especially in writing, filled with pride as I am, overflowing, in fact. It reminded me of the time I texted a friend, “My ego is bigger than the county,” to which she responded, “There’s an ‘r’ in ‘country.'”

Every day thenceforth I thought about my friend and about how badly I must have wounded him. But my pride, slowly eaten, had digested and it allowed me to accept without bitterness what was. Some things you can’t unsay, and some things you can’t undo. This was apparently one of them.

A couple of days ago the mail came and I was flipping through it. There was a fat card with my friend’s name and return address printed on the upper left-hand corner. I had given up on ever hearing from him again and stared at the card in disbelief, but I didn’t open it because I was afraid.

I was afraid that this was an automated Christmas mailing with a pre-printed greeting that hadn’t been purged from the year before. I was afraid that I was going to open it and find out that I hadn’t really found out anything at all, except that I was still part of the secretary’s mail merge. So I finished the day and went to bed, thinking about that card.

I got up the next morning at five and made some coffee and talked with my teacher in Shanghai and brushed my teeth and shaved and got dressed and looked at that envelope sitting on the coffee table. I sat down on the couch and carefully slit the end of the envelope, drawing out the card. The front showed  several scenes of a happy family. I slowly turned it over.

In bold, strong letters, stroked with a pen, it said, “Seth, I miss you. Blessings on you, Yasuko, Cassady, Hans, Woodrow, and all of your loved ones.”

Superimposed on the back of the card was the word, written large, “Joy.”



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