Christmas Letter 2015: A Dyslexic No-L
I’ll start with something familiar to everyone: the click-clack of scrabble tiles on the coffee table as they are turned over like ancient talismans. Five hands descend voraciously but aimlessly, racking up the letters in scattered order. Then, silence – my favorite kind of silence – thinking silence. (But then, I love pregnancies of all kinds.) We are playing next to the Christmas tree, hence, the inspiration for the placement of the first word.
Therese’s turn. With little hesitation, she lays down her tiles: A-N-G-L-E. “Angel!” she proclaims triumphantly.
“Um, that’s not angel; it’s angle,” says Ronan, conspicuously ready to pounce on his sister.
“Nope,” she replies with 13-year-old confidence. “Pretty sure it spells angel.”
Gabriel speaks: “What’s wrong with angle? It’s still a word. In fact,” he muses, “I use angles more often than angels.”
All eyes turn to me. I am judge and executioner; I mean, executor. “It’s a word,” I decree, as if descending from on high – not unlike the angel atop our tree, who does indeed list to an angle.
Brian’s turn. He studies his letters. After a moment’s thought, he asks aloud, “How do you spell ‘negativity’?”
“What?!” I ask astonished. “I thought we were playing Christmas scrabble! There’s no negativity in Christmas!”
“There is! There is!” he protests, pointing to the miniature manger. “I’m talking about the Negativity Scene.” At this juncture, I use the well-known parenting technique called: the Deep Breath. I ask him calmly, “Do you mean the Nativity Scene?”
“Yes! That’s it!” He agrees emphatically, snapping his fingers and pointing all over the room. “How do you spell ‘nativity’?” I spell it for him. With each passing letter I utter, he scans the tiles on his rack, and the crease in his 15-year-old forehead deepens. I hear him whisper “N” under his breath, but I hold little hope for this one.
“Got it!” he says finally, and, working from the N in Therese’s word, slaps down his tiles: B-O-R-N. “There!” he exclaims with resourcefulness of dyslexic proportions. “That spells nativity!” Yes, yes, it does.
Ronan’s turn. He’s been bouncing in his seat since he racked his tiles. Clearly, he’s been waiting for his opportunity. Now, he slowly makes eye contact with each of us, and with each glance, his eyebrows mischievously move up and down, up and down.
Slowly, he places his tiles: S-A-T-A-N.
We redress him in loud unison: “RONAN!” accompanied by variations of face-palming, head shaking, and exasperated sighs, which is just the reaction for which this 10-year-old boy was hoping.
“What?” he protests with feigned innocence. “What? Did I spell something wrong?” We all say nothing; we wait. I click my fingernails on the table; Therese taps a tile against her rack. But Ronan – he of the indomitable spirit -- waits, too. Finally, Brian loses patience first and rearranges the letters: S-A-N-T-A. And love conquers evil with the simple transposition. It really can be that easy, apparently.
Gabriel’s turn. My husband checks out the board, scans his rack, and again, his eyes flicker back and forth from board to rack. He makes his move. C-R-E-O-U-G-H-S. He uses all his letters in one go.
Hmm. Puzzling, this one is. We all stare for a while. There’s that silence again, but I don’t think it’s pregnant as much as perplexed this time. Even to us, this one’s clear as dum; I mean, mud. Ronan asks diplomatically, “Uh, Dad?”
“Crèche!” Gabriel proclaims. “Although there may be a fada in there somewhere.”
“Crèche?” I repeat sweetly, in an attempt to deploy international sensitivity. “Although I appreciate the Irish tendency to throw ‘ough’s’ undiscernibly into every word, I may have to call you on this one.”
“Ack, fine,” says he, conceding, and returns the letters to his rack. He’s back to square one, so to speak. But if I know my husband, that’s the place from which his best work is born. He thinks for a minute before stealing a vowel from Brian, a consonant from Therese, and another vowel from Ronan.
“How about this, then?” We all hold our breath. His tiles slowly tap out: C-R-A-I-C. We release a collective exhalation and impart smiles all around. Yes, of course.
(For our non-Irish friends, “craic” is a term used frequently in many an Irish home. Loosely translated into American, it means: “joyfulness in others’ company” OR “Ah, go on, you’ll stay for one more, won’t yis?”)
My turn. I’m desperately anagramming in my head, trying to figure how I can articulate, within the confines of six to eight thin wooden squares, some poignant Christmas moral. Do I have enough letters for INCARNATION? or ADORATION? or EPIPHANY? If God can create the beauty of the world from utter chaos, then surely I can discern one single word from the apparent jumble upon which I gaze.
With this thought, I’m looking to express a word on the tip of my tongue… that word that describes how we navigate the daily disorder and extract those elements from it which yield beauty. These four humans who surround me choose each day to create splendor from the muddle of their lives:
Gabriel’s exquisite furniture
Brian’s irrepressible wit
Therese’s vibrant expressionism
Ronan’s clever comic art
All imperfect, all created with divine inspiration, all pregnancies of something still greater yet to come. I glance over at Mary in the Negativ Nativity Scene, who taught me this, some 2,000 years ago. I give her the auld wink, and whisper, “I’m with ya, sister.”
Because nothing – not His plans, nor His methods, nor the universe itself – is simply black and white.
So with concession to all I hold dear, I place down my tiles: G-R-A-Y-C-E. No one says a word. They all just stare at the board and shrug, because there doesn’t seem to be any need to challenge. The word seems downright imperceptible; I mean, inspirational. Ronan hesitates, looks at me with raised eyebrows, but then gives me the auld wink.
From our house to yours,
we wish you a very marry mary Merry Christmas 2015.
May you create beauty from seeming chaos.
May it be filled with God’s Grayce.
Much love, from the McKeagneys