My nephew is fighting for what he believes in, again, and it will cost him the thing he loves. His mother is proud, and she should be. He’s smart. He’s thinking critically. And it is completely reasonable for him to question why Santa didn’t remember his name when he had just seen him the day before at a Christmas party.
“He’s a fake,” my nephew told me. “But it makes sense. He has to have some people helping him out, probably, to get everywhere at once.”
He’s allowing it this time. Next year he may make a few more concessions. Or, like his mother, he may give up on it entirely. You can only allot the one you worship so many passes before they are just deemed unreliable. Then unrealistic. Then, just simply unreal. We’ve all been there or will be there or have been and will be again.
When the last course was served and the fifth round was poured, it was just a couple of blitzened grown ups on the eve of a children’s holiday. My sister is reading the Bible in its entirety so she can be certain of what she believes. What she believes is not the Bible. And while she has never had an audible affinity for the sacred text, there’s a strange sense that the more questions she is asking, the more she is losing what was once part of her. I don’t think she is brave or scared or right or wrong. I think she is pursuing love. And the best way she can is to lose a little part of her– the part that demanded far more from her than she bargained for growing up in a Christian home.
We fiddle back and forth with the terms and the conclusions of her pursuit of atheism. I don’t disagree with her. I don’t agree. But I do see the same slow tearing that we will see with her son in the coming years– the giving up of a creature that is no longer useful, and requires emotional surgery to remove. She will continue to make the Nice List even without the power of some person’s blood, real or imaginary. But the curtains have gone up in her mind. The lights are on. And she is tired, tired, tired of suspending her disbelief. No one is coming down the chimney for her at the end of this block to swoop her into Heaven with the rest of the baptized elves and reindeer. It’s just a guy in a suit who can’t remember her name.
Truthfully, I am content in the tension for now. It was some time after my second full read through the Bible that I grew tired, tired, tired, too. All of this effort for a thousand stories that change by the pulpit. And sometime after I read my last chapter-and-verse, I found a new set of sacred texts– a new set of imaginary or real characters. Three headed dogs and undying friendship and gods-among-men abound. When I am caught reading JK Rowling or Neil Gaiman in a coffeeshop and confronted with a knowing look or an “Oh man, can you believe this stuff?!”, no one is really looking that I should be prepared to give an answer. They are looking to see that I, too, have been changed by these mysterious sets of words. That we have been caught loving the same magic. That we are bound together by the long trail of stories that are being repeated every day and are learning from them.
Maybe I don’t love Jesus or the Bible or Harry Potter enough to ask any more questions. Maybe my contentment in the tension is a testament to that. Or maybe I am just happy to be part of the fabric, for now– now, when a political landscape stretches out before me in a clear pattern of black and white and right and wrong, it seems that having a few questions marks to lovingly wander through is more of a consolation. But likely, just like we do for all the things and ones we love, I am holding those questions so I don’t have to lose them. At least not yet.
More likely, I am not so much tired of these elaborate stories and the terrible good and sincere bad that they inflict, but I am tired of certainty. Not in an alternative fact sort of way. More that I spent most of my life believing just myself a few hand selected missionaries and saints were making the Heavenly cut. After years of successfully finding the text to back me up or the spin of “context” to back the text up, I am not yet comfortable or safe on the grounds that we are definitively worm food after this. Now, I would like to believe everything. Santa comes in a blaze of glory to redeem us all? Excellent. Jesus is a homeless man in the street? Perfect. God lives in a tiny pocket on the inside of each of us and when we all die we will complete him by forming one full and happy unit? Okay!
This infuriates my parents. This infuriates my sister. The certainty is keeping them safe. I am happy for them. But for now, I am just going to ask one question at a time. Like even if Santa does need a little extra help to be everywhere at once, what was the knock-knock-knocking on the roof Christmas Eve night?