Monday, December 20, 2010

Some Nativity Scenes

She came to the door carrying a glass of wine from home: tonight was a night for drinking chablis and she meant to go on as she'd started, whether she was dropping in on a neighbor's Christmas party or not.

She was in her fifties, all in black, with a pleasing décolletage. Not dressed to the nines, at all, but the sort of woman who goes on good-humoredly making the most of what she's got. She immediately perched in the most comfortable chair by the fire and became, effortlessly, the center of attention.

Her husband preferred to stand, having obtained a beer, and watched her fondly. A builder, an unreconstructed Northwesterner, of the sort of who simply doesn't talk when he has nothing to say, so comfortable with his silence that there's nothing awkward about it. You could see that in his view, his wife was the clever one about talking, so he delegated all that to her: he cast a professional eye on the remodeling my friends had done. Eventually asked a question or two about it, in a voice so soft I couldn't catch the words. He never did sit down.

“How pleasantly inclusive we're being with these older people!” I found myself thinking, as the conversation bubbled along. It was a few moments before it occurred to me that, to the thirty-somethings in the room, the newcomers were of a muchness with Martha and me.

I've accepted my gray-and-white hair and beard without resentment. I don't mind the physical changes I've gone through, especially since, generally speaking, I feel healthier and more vibrant than I did in my twenties. But I still unconsciously categorize myself with the young adults. When I worked in a cubicle for IBM I felt middle-aged, but now I don't.

My public status, however, has definitely changed. I'm of that age at which a man is well past the fork in the road, where the sign on the left says “Distinguished” and the sign on the right says “Invisible.” I'm on the right-hand road. Only particularly kind or polite young people take any notice of me, now. Which is a good thing: my time is no longer wasted on young people who are selfish and rude. There's a certain luxury in being middle-aged, in this country of the obsessively young. You fall off the radar. No one's tracking you any more: you can make your life whatever you please.

Or maybe, this is just the trajectory of my own life, and I'm generalizing unwarrantably. But life feels less and less a burden, and more and more of a gift, as the decades go by. I was so hagridden by expectation, when I was young. Now everyone knows that I will never be anything distinguished. The pressure's off.

Of course, sadness, too: we have given our hearts to things that are bound to be lost. But unlike them, I have the gift of men. I will not have to see the end of them.

Yesterday Mt Hood stood out with incredible clarity, covered with freshly fallen snow, a few ragged wisps of cloud caught in his hair. His scoliotic western spine is turned towards us, here, graceful curves running up to his peak. Too pretty, maybe, in a photograph: too symmetrical, but in life an overpowering vision of what is beautiful and remote. I'm not quite sure how people live without a mountain peak on the skyline. In Olympia we had Rainier, and here we have Hood. I missed it terribly, when I was in New Haven: I never got used to knowing that, whichever way I looked to the horizon, there were only more of the same miserable little hillocks with multitudes of human beings crawling over them.

But oh, quiet, Dale. It's wind and rain now, and a smudgy whitish sky, cold and stark for Christmas. I feel the rain tip-tapping on my my ancient bones, filling the bowl of my skull: sweet rainwater gathering in the little lakes dammed by the gathering of my finger-bones in the mud. It sings softly:

Oh sweet dear God, oh sweet dear God, I'm ready any time.

I hold baby Jesus against on my chest while he sleeps. A big day this week, getting born, taking on all the frantic hope and desire of the breeding world. But the two of us have this morning to gear up for it all. No one's paying attention to us now: it's just the two of us. When the time comes we'll play our parts gamely enough, whatever they are. But for now we're going to catch up on our sleep.

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