The fourth season is upon us, and my mind and mood have turned pensive and inward upon themselves. Navigating the chilling winds of winter by bicycle, or metaphorically, each have their challenges. Even though it’s still near record temperatures and shorts weather, the university students have decamped to their hometowns, lending a quiet to the city. Yet there is all the busy-ness of the haul-idays, people be shopping like fiends. People will tell you this season is about one particularly religious holiday. Others will says it’s just winter, and still more think it’s about being neighborly. But really, let’s be honest here. Isn’t supporting the American economy — particularly it’s multinational corporations — what Christmastime is really about?
Whateverland. That’s the place we all go sometimes when we either don’t know or don’t care about something. I find myself caught up in the hectic pace of preparing to travel, running errands, cramming in appointments, and such. I’d be buying presents too if I had, like, money and stuff. I was exhausted, so I napped deeply. I awoke and eventually did my gentle yoga. Old jazz plays on the speaker– Duke Ellington and John Coltrane’s “In a Sentimental Mood,” quite appropriately. An old college friend texted, wanted to talk. I said I had too much to do and wasn’t in the mood, but that we would soon. He wrote, “Being Life is awesome! Why is it so hard for me to get my mind around that preciousness/ celebration?” I asked him, “What does that mean? What does it all mean?”
Who knows? Growing up in a Jewnitarian (Jewish + Unitarian Universalist) household as I did meant that Christmasakuh was complicated. Nowadays, being a daily cyclist who is out in nature, I resonate more with the concept of the changing of the season from autumn to winter as a real thing to commemorate. The word conjures up a few things for me. Childhood winters in Dallas had a few snowstorms or ice. I recall my few winters in the northeast; one in Vermont (with at least one terrifying drive in heavy snow to get to an overnight job at a half-way house), another one and a half winters in Washington, DC, and part of one in Philadelphia. A few in Seattle as well. Last February here in Austin we had an epic Snomaggedon.
Speaking of the change in weather, there’s Antonio Vivaldi’s vibrant violin concertos, The Four Seasons. Somehow they’re timeless. Then I think of “Winter in America,” that haunting song-proto-rap-poem about America’s racism by visionary artist Gil Scott-Heron, about whom I’ve written here and again here. Since The Matrix: Resurrections was just released this week, and I watched the first three movies to prepare. And because star Keanu Reeves was in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure with co-star Alex Winter (He’s an accomplished director of well-recived documentaries including one about music giant Frank Zappa that I want to see). Everyone’s probably got some vivid memories about the season, hot, cold, or somewhere in between.
Whether it’s the weather, a feeling that the world is both slowing down and speeding up at the same time, hope and dread of what the new year will bring, or maybe even just getting into the holiday spirit, I guess I’m not sure what any of it means. Sure, it’s tradition to gather, gift, eat, and the rest, if you have those to do it with. (“Tradition!” sang Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.) But sorry, Christians, I hate to break the bad news: The reason for the season is not Jesus — neither the guy who helped me at the auto parts store, nor that long dead and probably fictitious Jewish carpenter. Winter solstice the other day was the point at which the earth, being tilted on its axis, is at the furthest point from the sun, and is the shortest day of sunlight in the year. Thus the candles and lights people are drawn to.
As a kid, I had little concept of time, but now I’m a grown-assed dude. I know that the day after the solstice, the days start getting ever so brighter. Event thought it’s only by a few minutes, the slow turning back toward the light begins. In these dark days of yet another coronavirus surge due to the omicron variant (thanks again, South Africa – not!), we can hope that booster shots and masks and getting ourselves tested and not French kissing strangers (okay, maybe one) will help. Or maybe not. People are idiots, especially down here in Texas, and the American South. Steve Miller sang “Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping / into the future…” I don’t know what he was trippin’ on but I dig his stuff. Music, that is.
2022. It sounds very futuristic, like the title of a science fiction movie made back in the 1980’s. Ridley Scott’s visionary epic Blade Runner movie was actually set in 2019. We have mercenary wars, flying cars may be available in just two years, and synthetic humans aren’t available yet but there are some pretty convincing human-like robots and Artificial Intelligence may lead to The Terminator computer network Skynet achieving self-awareness and taking over sooner than we might think. Brilliant genius physicist Stephen Hawking thought that AI was either going to “be the best thing that’s happens to us, the worst thing, or if we’re not careful, it very well may be the last thing.”
Let’s not forget about climate change. Government leaders held another summit. Reports get written about how dire the threat is. A very cold storm like we had that knocked out the power grid for about a week makes some people think global warming isn’t real, but the La Nina weather pattern, the polar vortex, sea ice, and other factors can cause that. Overall, the planet’s getting hotter, sea levels are rising (say goodbye, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, and the Maldives). I don’t know how I got onto this, but here’s some skilled light work denoting my naïve hope that someday “we can all just get along.”
Meanwhile, we take these moments from our normal toils and troubles to celebrate in whatever way we see fit. Even thought the world is in some ways falling apart (again/still) due to the killer virus and the omicron variant. But here, we get some nice Jewish delicatessen food to enjoy. A movie is usually in order, something Christmas-y, but not too heavy. I forgot to bring my Seinfeld trivia game, but we can still watch the famous The Festivus (“For the rest of us!”) episode. (By the way, the real date is February 13, when the script-writer Dan O’Keeefe’s parents first dated. But it can held at anytime.) We try to be to nice, helpful, and of good cheer, to the extent possible. Some days that’s harder than others. Especially when staying up late to write a meandering thought piece.
For me, the lessons of this time is basically The Golden Rule, mostly. Hard to follow, but worth striving for. But then again, what if our programming and such is what keeps us in these habit patterns of the mind? Are we each in a sort of hell (quite likely of our own making), or a Matrix of our own, that holds us back? Most certainly both. Maybe. I think. The first rule of The Matrix is there is no Matrix. The second rule is to try to wake up. Then try making conscious efforts to remember one’s real dreams, not the ones implanted by The Machines. (OK, that’s a stretch connecting Christmas to a sci-fi movie, but I stand by the comparison.)
In sum, we all make our way through this strange time in different ways. Some better than others. May this time of year be all you hope it to be and more. If that’s a Norman Rockwell painting, a rollicking party, or quiet times with a few loved ones or even alone. Somewhere beneath all the din and fracas is the earth, breathing her cold breaths in the north, and warm in the south. She keeps turning on her axis, while the rivers flow, the grasses grow, and flora and fauna go to and fro. Winter is a new season, and there’s a a new year dawning. Perhaps with it will come a new hope (but not the Star Wars variety). May The Force of Christmas, Winter, Chanukah, the New Year, Kwanzaa, and Festivus, or whatever — be with you.
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