Christmas Letter 2017: The Light in the Distance
Says my teenager to me: “So I’m thinking the three Magi had it easy.”
Say I to my oldest child, with genuine curiosity: “Really? Why is that?”
Says he: “Well, they were scholars, right? Scientists? So they see this big ol’ brightness in the sky and they look through some dusty old scrolls to find out it’s this comet or whatever, and that it’s been around before. That’s not a real shocker as much to them as it is to other people, because most people aren’t even educated at the time, right?”
Say I, encouraged that my teen is sharing a longer-than-two-sentence thought with me: “Yeah, sure.”
Says my teen: “And then they’re science geeks, right? So they probably don’t have a wife and kids. They can look at each other, and say, ‘Dudes, let’s check this out, ‘cause it’s not coming around for another 70 years.’ So they pack a few things (like, how much do they really need in the first century?), and jump on some grubby ol’ camels, and they’re off on this awesome adventure together.
“Then one of them says, ‘Dudes, my mom always told me you can’t show up to a place with one arm as long as the other, so we better bring some bling, just in case.”’
Say I to my teen: “Sounds like a wise woman.”
Continues my teen, ignoring my self-congratulatory amusement: “So off they go. They’re guys, so they stop for directions -- during the daytime, probably – at Herod’s castle or whatever. But Herod gives out this weird vibe and gives them the creepy side-eye, so the Magi guys give him the slip on the way back. Not hard to figure out.” He pauses, and I wait. I know this pause; it’s familiar to me. “But all they had to do was look up and follow the comet-star thing that was – literally – right in front of them.”
(Me, secretly pleased that my teen used “literally” correctly, but not daring to interrupt this epiphanic flow.)
My teen: “I mean, when is your path in life so obvious? Like, when is there really a bright shining light that points the way?”
Ah – so that’s where this was going. Good question, my child.
Say I to my teen, in teacher mode now, knowing when to leave an empty space unfilled: “Rarely ever.”
I sit at my kitchen table in the pre-dawn, most mornings, and think a great deal about the light we cannot see. As parents, we try to illuminate our children’s way, but we don’t know the right path for them, and to think that we do is hubristic. They must unroll their own maps and plot their own pilgrimages, pack their own gear, mount their own questionable camels. (I can hear the Magis’ moms now: “Did you bring matches, sweetie? Or an extra cloak? Can I make you a quick sandwich?” And Magis’ dads, shaking their heads: “Honey, leave them alone; they’ll figure it out as they go.”)
Truth is, the best we can do is to teach them to read: maps, signs, their moral conscience. That luminescence in the distance, they’re the only ones who can see it.
Speaking of Magi:
- Brian climbed to his star on a late July afternoon this year – atop Croagh Patrick in Co. Mayo, Ireland, which rises 2,500 feet above sea level. A normal person reaches the summit in two hours and takes one and a half hours to descend. Brian, whose gift is an Adventurous Spirit, sprinted to the top in just over an hour and toppled back down in 35 minutes, exploding with accomplishment. I was waiting for him at the bottom.
- Therese chased her star this year. She took off from the high school starting line at light speed, a 6:39 mile pace. Hers will be an endurance run; but she sees the light in the distance, and she is learning to pace herself, meanwhile winning a first-place Trinity League medal in November. I was waiting for her at the finish line.
- Ronan’s star is still a gentle glow, but he’s looking up and out at the horizon now. At age 12, he is learning to discern the difference between reliable celestial bodies and distracting satellites. Which star is his, he is yet to determine, but he is scanning the skies. He, whose gift is Wonder, is exploring the universe. I can wait for him.
Says said tween to me, contemplating his brother’s musings: “I wonder what happened to the Magi afterward?”
Say I to my youngest child, with genuine curiosity: “What do you mean?”
Says he: “Well, did they just go home and that’s literally it?”
Only slightly distracted by the middle-schooler’s misuse of the adverb, I sense, from the corner of my mythology, a half-light glow, a dim memory of my dusty ambition: Good question, my child. I look over to my husband of 21 years for help. What DID happen next? Did they follow other comets, thinking to find other majesties? Was that pilgrimage the pinnacle of their lives? And … am I asking all these questions, my dear husband, for us?
Then says my middle child, my daughter, with a spark of insight and a sprinkle of sass: “Nah. That ending is too depressing.” (Me, cringing at the misuse of the teenage adjective…) “You can’t just die.” (…and hyperbole.) “Even if there are no obvious stars in the sky to follow, you gotta keep going.
“Brian’s right,” says she, whose gift is Empathy. “Not all stars are outside of you.”
Then says she to me: “What about you and dad? You’re not dead yet. What’s next for you?”
Say I to her, with genuine curiosity: “I’m not sure, honey.” I pause, familiarly. Then it dawns on me. “Why don’t you show me the way? Enlighten me.”
This Christmas, wherever you are in your pilgrimage,
whether gathering supplies for your young magi,
or waiting for a sign from your grown ones,
or unrolling a dusty map to find your next destination,
We wish you illumination, that you continue to search for the light you cannot see,
and discover that it’s always been within you.
Merry Christmas 2017 from the McKeagneys