When he was still a young man, a friend of a friend had a job for a while as a movie stunt man. He learned how to fall off a cliff. How to survive an explosion. And how to roll a car, crash a car, flip a car, and still emerge alive.
He learned how to work out all the calculations of speed and weight and lift so that he could safely launch a car off the end of a ramp and land without killing himself.
And then one day he was asked to send a car crashing through a giant billboard.
They were shooting a commercial. You’ve seen this kind of ad on TV. A full-screen ad for a particular gasoline, perhaps. Or a familiar brand of car. And suddenly a car comes smashing through the ad, shredding it.
Today, I guess, they use computer technology. Back then, they did it for real.
My young friend knew exactly how fast he had to be going, how steep the ramp must be, how far the car would fly, how it would land on the other side.
He had driven that jump many times before.
But it felt different when he couldn’t see ahead through the giant billboard. Even if it was just made of paper.
I’ve never smashed a car through any barrier, let alone a billboard. But on December 31 we all crash through an imaginary barrier into 2021.
In a sense, I’ve done this stunt more than 80 times before. I’ve leaped off one year and landed in another. I’ve never known what was coming, and yet I have always landed safely.
And yet … and yet … I can’t help feeling a touch of fear this time.
Because last year was like nothing I could have predicted.
The coronavirus pandemic -- and please don’t tell me it was a “plandemic” -- changed the way we live and relate. A president refused to accept that he lost an election. Governments all over the world wrote themselves blank cheques. Long-term care homes turned from havens for the most vulnerable into mortuaries. Struggling businesses went belly-up.
And for me, personally, my wife’s death.
I’d like to think that 2021 will be better. That vaccines will send Covid-19 the way of polio and smallpox. That life will return to normal.
But it may not.
Some of the current protective practices may become the new norm. Economics may devise new theories to account for reality. Democracy may need re-thinking.
I’ve never been one to dive off the dock before testing the water with my toe. So I’d like to know what we’re diving into.
I can’t help wondering how many aging friends will die before the next New Year comes. I wonder if I’ll be one of them.
The days when I was young and invincible have long gone. When I fall, I get hurt more easily. When I get hurt -- physically or emotionally -- I take longer to heal.
So I don’t want to risk crashing into the new year. I’d like to tippy-toe into 2021, causing as little disturbance as possible.
Life is sweet. Let me savour it while I can.
Copyright © 2020 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
To comment on this column, write firstname.lastname@example.org
There were several references in last week’s Soft Edges that readers wanted to comment on.
Bob Thompson responded to my suggestion that Christmas had become a societal norm: “Of course, Christmas isn't technically a Christian celebration. Technically, it is a Druidic celebration, around the time of the winter solstice. Christianity decided that if you couldn't stamp it out, you could co-opt it, and so the story of the birth of Jesus was overlaid onto the solstice celebration.
“That story -- the birth of Jesus -- is a good story. It has continued to unleash the compassion and imagination of people for over a thousand years. And now secularism attempts to co-opt the celebration from Christianity -- with limited success, to date. Yes, the story keeps getting blurred with emotional fog, but it seems to me that the fact is that this is a time of year when people expect to reach out and help others -- when people hope for their own needs to be met, but even more, that the needs of those who are marginalized will also be met. Perhaps, with time, the commercialism will put its mark on Christmas to such an extent that the spirit of giving, sharing and caring will be stamped out, but for now, the 'reason for the season' lives on. It seems to me to be a time, when the majority of us 'return home' in our hearts -- to the emotions that have always brought out the best of us.”
For my cousin Mike Parmenter, the song references: “Thanks very much for reminding me of Stan Rogers' powerful ‘First Christmas’. It's not a song you hear on the radio and this year I had forgotten about it until you mentioned it. I went immediately to YouTube and played it several times, something I try to do every Christmas.
“Two other songs which you may not know and which I like to hear at this time of year are ‘Silver Bell’ by Ian Tyson and ‘Northern Glory’ by Allan Byrne. The first is about Christmas separation, the second is just a great Christmas song.”
Isabel Gibson called the column, as a whole, “Lovely. Sad. Honest. Hard. True. That's what the best writing is, and that describes this post.”
Bob Rollwagen resonated with the idea of sharing memories: “I look at Christmas as a time of wonderful memories. A special friend has just told us she is dying. We know this is her last Christmas. A daughter has just advised all who need to know that her family structure is altering shortly. In both cases many are celebrating Christmas memories and making plans for the unknown future. Tears have, are, and will be.
“Jim, we share many friends. Marion [Kirkwood] continues to be a missionary everywhere she goes. Jim was also a wonderful and supportive husband. Good memories.
“I appreciate the idea you have brought forward here, a time period when all those with a faith that takes them beyond themselves to a vision of a world of equality and peace. Joy. This year, more than any in my past I have been able to hear about the many faiths and their celebrations. Isolation has provided time to listen.”
Bob referred to Marion Kirkwood, who described her own eclectic creche in last week’s letters. So did Gail Price: “Reading Marion Kirkwood's description of her expanded Nativity reminded me of attending our granddaughter's school Christmas Pageant at an Episcopal Church in California. The principal ensured every child had a part, so after the shepherds and the sheep arrived the little ones processed to the manger with stuffed or plastic animals, reptiles or insects, from the traditional to the unexpected. It was wonderful!”
Gail, like others, offered sympathy on a “first Christmas” alone: “Having buried my Dad on a December 23rd,I know how different that first Christmas is. Good memories help. Fifteen years later our adult children still talk about Christmases with Granddad.”
My reference to “Blue Christmas” services evoked this from John Shaffer: “I have occasionally wondered about the ‘genesis’ of Blue Christmas services. I probably got the idea from you. Did it in Spokane and Stanwood. When we got newspaper coverage, attendance was high. My wife reminded me of the time when so many people came that the chapel was full and she had to get the boy scout troop to move a refreshment table from a small room to the fellowship hall without spilling a drop. Her Christmas miracle!
“Another time, one individual drove 60 miles to participate. All in all, powerful services.
“Thanks to whoever thought of it in the modern context.”
JT: To clarify, Wood Lake didn’t invent Blue Christmas services. I don’t know who did. We heard about them, thought they were a valuable idea, and marketed our own versions.
Kim MacMillan: “Thank you Jim for this wonderful story [about a Christmas Eve service]. I believe it. I participated as a singer/drummer in this year’s Blue Christmas service and for the first time, due to my Mom’s death, I felt like I particularly belonged there. It was good.”
Richard Bes also liked that story: “I wonder if that's part of why you continue this ministry/communication/opinion expression/whatever, because it helps you know that, even alone, you are loved.”
Tom Watson summed up: “An E-card I received opened with a dog going to a hillside, overlooking the village below. A cat ambles over and sits beside the dog. As music softly plays, the dog reaches out one front paw and drapes it over the cat's shoulder. Seems to me that no matter how we celebrate this season, the essence of it is in that scene — reaching out to each other in whatever ways we can and sharing our common humanity.”
Psalm 147 praises God as a very masculine ruler. I wondered how re-focussing onto feminine experience might change the metaphor.
12 Thank God that God does things differently.
13 By the wisdom of this world, an unborn child has no value.
It has no name; it is not yet a person.
Yet while it is still in the womb, it somersaults with joy.
14 Its mother's eyes shine with hope;
her breasts swell with the milk of life.
15 To the mother, the unborn child matters more than any international agreement;
she wraps it in her own body.
16 God carries us in her womb.
With her own lifeblood, God feeds us.
Like mother preparing a nursery for her newborn,
God readies the earth to receive us.
17 Winter gives way to spring;
frozen hearts thaw;
tightly buttoned spirits burst into fragile new leaf.
18 That is God's way:
out of darkness comes light;
out of ice, water;
out of pain and struggle, new life.
19 That is how God gives birth.
20 Others may not recognize this mystery.
But to us God has revealed the miracle.
Our cry of weakness is a cry of triumph;
our thirst invites us to lie close to the heart of God and drink our fill.
God does things differently. Thank God!
You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalmsavailable from Wood Lake Publishing, email@example.com.
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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have blocked my posts because they’re suspicious of some of the web links.
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)
ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)