A Very Special Boys II Men Christmas Interpretation

“Zhare, in zha forest, eez your guardian tree,” our instructor said, speaking in a beguiling French accent. “Go to eet.” I was about to when I heard Peter shuffling on the floor. I opened my eyes. The girls, of course, were mostly in place, though Pema, hand to her mouth, was giggling conspicuously on her meditation cushion. The boys were another story. Silke, the kids and I were arranged in a semicircle around our instructor, who was gently taking us through a guided meditation. “All zha trees een zha forest are old and wise, but thees one ees unique to you. It ees zha oldest and wisest of all.” Well that sounds nice. Then Andrew kicked me.

 

“Sorry,” Andrew mouthed under his breath. He hadn’t meant it. Like Peter, he was just more interested in getting attention than listening. That’s why we were separated boy-girl, but it wasn’t helping much. And besides, per the instructions, Silke’s eyes were obediently closed. So were mine. Well, they had been. I mean…how could you not…? I looked meaningfully at Andrew, who sat up straight, stared forward and pretended to squint. Pema laughed. I glared at Peter too, but he was on the opposite side of the room.

 

“Ahz you walk up to your tree, you will noteece a door. Open eet.” I closed my eyes. I’ve been in enough meditation circles to know that it quickly becomes foolish to try to manage someone else’s experience. I opened the door. Inside, it was dark. “Step eenside, and you weel see zhat ev-ah-ree-thing is softly ee-loo-mee-nated.” And it was. Just like her voice. Bing-bomm-bimmn… The chimes, which accompanied her story, settled like fairy dust on my shoulders. Someone snickered off to the right.

 

“You weel see zhat zhare are many pahss-ahjjez.” I smiled and repeated the word to myself silently, passages, pahss... “Take a look around. Zhare are pahss-ahjjez up high, een zha brahnshez, and down low en zha roots. Find one, and follow eet.” I began walking down a root when I heard a barely contained chortle from the far corner. I opened one eye. Sebastian, trying to contain his laughter, had his hands to his mouth. Peter was splayed out on the carpet. The two were eyeing each other with spacious grins. Pema, who sat between them, lay back as if she were watching a comedy routine. I was about to say something when Silke put her hand softly on Sebastian’s leg. I returned to my root.

 

“Dzeep at zha end of zha pahss-ahjj, you weel find a room. Explore eet. Eenside ees something unique jhust for you.” Bong-bim-bommn… I looked around, but I didn’t find anything. I was still looking, moments later, when our instructor asked us to open our eyes and describe what we had found. Sebastian’s hand shot up. “I saw a diamond,” he said. “It was as big as this room, with lots of crystals and shapes and…” Weren’t you just giggling with Peter? As he described it, I watched his eyes drift away, recounting something that appeared to loom directly before him. He smiled pertly. That one, so confident. I smiled at Silke, who grinned back.

 

As soon as Sebastian had finished, Peter’s arm rocketed forward. “I saw something!” he announced. “Yez?” our instructor asked. “I saw a diamond. It was as big as this room, and…” Peter continued in absolute earnest. “I saw something too,” said Andrew, less vigorously, but still with confidence. “I saw a diamond as big as this room…and…it had…”

 

A few of the girls went next, and our instructor. There was a chimp, another tree, a blue bird… Meanwhile, I was searching about my room. There must be something in here, I thought, can’t be just me. Silke saw a little gnome. Of course. Then it was my turn. “Well, it was just me,” I said, “but I liked the chimes.”

 

“Okay, close your eyes again,” said our instructor, tongue rolling gently. “Now you weel walk out of zha room, down zha pahss-ahjj, and out zha door. Look at zha sky, and breath eet een. And remember – you can come back to your guardian tree anytime. Eet ees like a guardian angel…” Andrew flopped noisily next to me. I opened my eyes and looked at him. “Deed you know,” continued our instructor, “zhat eech one of you has your own guardian angel?” I glanced across the room. The kids were variously sitting or lounging on their cushions. Many had their eyes open, lips faintly parted. One had her eyes closed and was smiling softly. I scanned to my right, Peter with an impish grin, Pema pretending not to laugh, Sebastian proud like a lion. “She wrahps her weengs around you…” our instructor said. I glanced again at Silke, who smiled, cocked her head at me and raised a suggestive eyebrow.

 

Angels schmangels.

 

*

 

“Okay,” Silke said, taking several hard pieces of beeswax into her hands. We were sitting around her kitchen table. The children had just finished cutting up potatoes and squash, which were now roasting in the oven. It being advent, Silke had celebrated first the “light of the stones,” then the “light of the plants.” This was week three, beasts.

 

“Take a piece in your hands and pass it along,” Silke instructed. “The tiger passes to the cow, the cow passes to the pig, the pig…” Each child had a hand-carved wooden animal in front of them, animals they were “being,” and they laughed as they passed the beeswax from animal to animal. I was the donkey.

 

“Thanks,” I said, receiving a red piece of wax from the horse. I began working it with my hands, knowing that I had to give it a lot of warmth from my hands before it would be pliable. Most of the other animals just put it on their backs. “Now children, Papa Joe is getting ahead of us. He is trying to mash it with his fingers…” I looked up. Isn’t this what we always do?

 

“Pick up your pieces of wax, children,” Silke continued. “Does it feel hard?” Various nods of agreement, bordering on complaint. We had just handled modeling clay, which was much softer, making a simple ball and placing it on the table before us. Each child had pressed a Chanukah candle into the ball, making a simple, but stable candle holder. Now lit, the candles flickered softly before us, in addition to the six red candles on the intricately carved Christmas carousel in the middle of the table. Powered by the heat of the candles acting upon fan blades, its three tiers rotated gently, a series of angels on top, then sheep, then wise men.

 

“Papa Joe is trying to soften it with his hands, and we usually do that with beeswax, but today,” and Silke held her hand over the candle in front of her, “we are going to use the heat of the candle.” I looked at her with an incredulous grin, then scanned the kids. Pema and Ada were listening carefully. Peter was still a tiger. Sebastian eyed his candle with focus. Then my eyes fell on Andrew, whose piece of red wax was in the same hand he had injured a month earlier, an accident at home with a blender. Only last week had he gotten the cast off.

 

Oh well, I thought, hoping for the best. I brought my wax carefully over the flame, pulling it back as I saw the outside begin to gleam. As I began to work the heated wax into the center, I scanned the table again. Ada, pinching the wax at the very corner, held her piece over the flame. Peter waved his wax over the candle, passing quickly left to right. To my surprise, the children were all quite careful. In fact, they were proud. They touched in, feeling not only the warmth of the wax, but gently testing the limits of the danger before them. I recalled the week prior, when three of the boys, including Andrew, had built an elaborate “Christmas cactus,” painstakingly attaching reeds to the barbed spines of a tall cholla cactus. I had been impressed at their stillness and focus, and I saw much the same on the children’s faces now.

 

“Whooo,” came the sound, a heavy breath. I glanced up. Pema was reaching toward the wooden carousel. “One of the candles fell,” she said, in a tone that belied her calm. “I blew it out,” she said, setting the candle back in its holder on the carousel. “It’s fine.” As if nothing much happened, she returned to her wax. I stared, stunned.

 

After a few seconds, I turned my eyes back to my hands. I had already formed the red wax into a basic donkey shape, and now, with a few quick movements, I pulled out two ears and a small tail. Placing it onto the back of my wooden donkey, I smiled. Not bad, I thought, pleased with myself. Most of the kids were still experimenting with wax and candle, so Silke quickly put another piece under my twiddling thumbs. I eyed the kids once again as I picked it up. Each was in her own world. These are moments I treasure.

 

Holding the second piece of wax over the flame, I watched the little angels spin on top of the carousel. Such a gentle and satisfying movement. To my surprise, I quickly shaped a realistic figure with wings. As I pinched off two prayerful arms with my thumbnail, Silke leaned over and smiled. “You’re a natural, you know.”

 

*

 

I recently finished a book, Darwin’s Cathedral. Written for an academic audience, it remains approachable for a layperson interested in the intersection of religion, psychology and science. In fact, it’s author, David Wilson, is at the cutting edge of evolutionary theory.

 

The central question of Wilson’s book is whether we can derive a more comprehensive understanding of religion from an evolutionary standpoint than from those prevailing in the social sciences. His suggestion, of course, is yes, and his thesis is that religious beliefs, whether true or not (and even regardless of whether they are true or not), motivate behaviors that are adaptive, or beneficial, at the group level. In other words, our ancestors survived because they formed well-organized groups that outcompeted other less-well-organized groups, and one of the things that may have bound them together most successfully was religion.

 

As the saying goes, no man is an island. Even the most successful and ingenious men and women, as individuals, cannot compete with a well-organized group, even if that group is made up of inferior individuals. History is filled with such examples, Jesus Christ being perhaps only one of the most famous. Even God, it appears, has a hard time dealing with organized bands of humans.

 

Still, Jesus had his champions, and in subsequent years they managed to turn the tides quite palpably. The real losers, God bless them, are folks we will never know about, folks who just couldn’t compete. Entire tribes and cultures wiped off the face of the earth. Famously, it’s the survivors that write history, but more importantly, it’s the survivors that make babies. That is, they live.

 

From an evolutionary standpoint, therefore, the question is not whether religion is true, per se, nor untrue. It’s that well-defined groups have tended to survive better than individuals and loosely organized bands. They are evolutionarily superior. Like ant colonies, they are almost organisms unto themselves. Solitary ants, no matter how stout, or faithful, die off. Colonies survive.

 

But what ties ants together is different from what ties humans together. In the case of ants, it’s largely instinct and hormones. That’s probably true for us too, but with humans, and our highly complex social structures, ideas are paramount. In fact, throughout the last seventy-thousand years, it has been routinely possible, and even likely, that a person’s material advantage was served by holding certain false beliefs. Consider a Christian martyr in the Roman amphitheater, or a pagan witch in the middle ages. Among the crowds that watched these men and women die were thousands of people who, it might be said, were wrong but survived. And not just incidentally, but precisely because they believed the right wrong thing.

 

In fact, historically, there was little reason for truth to be our guiding light, so long as the surviving was good. Life is our guiding light, not truth, and if believing in falsehoods is to our advantage, and it sometimes is, then those who believe falsely will survive. Conversely, those stubbornly attached to the truth will, on occasion, suffer the consequences.

 

This may strike some as dismal, but it does not in any way suggest that falsehood triumphs over truth in all situations. It may well be that truth is, in the long run, evolutionarily superior too. It’s just that, well, sometimes it’s not. And the fact that groups with false ideas are sometimes dominant remains (and the modern era is clearly not immune). Further, and this is the essence of Wilson’s theory, it suggests that something deeper may lie beneath some of the beliefs we hold. Is it possible, for example, that religions unite us, via shared beliefs and cultural norms, into groups, much like an ant colony? And is it possible that those groups united by religion, driven by beliefs that appear to be ultimate and transcendent, bond those groups together in such a way that, as individuals, their material needs and survival are better served than groups of, say, secular humanists?

 

The science is not yet fully in. This is just a theory, and a new one at that. But if there is some truth to it, then it says something about us, not only as a species, and not only as localized groups, but also as individuals. It is tantalizingly possible that our religious beliefs, or cosmologies, serve us at a level quite beyond that of truth, perhaps in ways that are more mundane than they first appear.

 

Some people might sour at such an idea – the ultimate things seem so, you know, ultimate. But I taste freedom. Truth need not be our guiding light. Life is. If, like me, you have found yourself on a sometimes tragic voyage of discernment, you might like to know that truth is not required for passage. In fact, there, in the forest, is your guardian tree. Go to it. There is a door inside, with many pahss-ahjjez.

 

*

 

“Daddy, this one!” Pema shouted. She had her hand on a lopsided evergreen. There was no snow on the ground, but it was very cold in the shadow of the mountain. Late afternoon was giving way to evening, and Silke, Pema, Francis and I had ventured into the national forest, with a permit, to cut down a Christmas tree.

 

“Well, I don’t know, pup,” I said, eyeing the uneven branches. “I think we want one that’s a little…fuller.”

 

“This one?” Pema said, grabbing the very next tree, eyeing me eagerly.

 

“Um…let’s look around a bit before we decide,” I said.

 

“Okay,” she said, and ran off. Francis followed, their heavy boots clopping through the forest floor.

 

We fanned out, each of us wandering the forest, slowly advancing up the trail. “Is this a spruce?” I asked Silke, touching the soft green needles of a small tree.

 

“I think it’s a fir,” she said.

 

“Right. I don’t know the difference. Anyway, let’s get one that’s not so pokey. Is that why they call it a fir?”

 

“Daddy, over here!” I followed the voice and found Pema, squeezed under a juniper branch. “What do you think?” she said. Francis, nearby, jiggled a sapling ponderosa.

 

“Well…” and I made a face, “how ‘bout we head down this way?” Having surveyed the immediate area, I had spotted a few trees in the distance that might fit. “Okay!” Pema said, bounding back down the hill. I didn’t mean to be so picky. A Charlie Brown style Christmas tree would be just fine, actually. But this would be the first real tree the kids had had and I wanted to give them the full experience. I hadn’t gotten a Christmas tree for years, maybe ten or more, having mostly preferred the potted jade plant that we decorated with ornaments, and remained alive. Something about cutting down a tree…

 

“What about this one?” Pema asked, as I caught up to her.

 

“Yeah, something like that,” I said, smiling. The evergreen was full and round, with a nice pointy top a little higher than my reach. I held out the permit to Silke. “Says we can’t cut a tree over ten feet.”

 

“What? Are you going to measure it with a tape measure?”

 

“Well, no… I just mean…”

 

I walked up to the tree and felt the soft green needles. Crouched nearby were several other saplings of the same species. “Seems like if we cut this one, these others will grow,” I said, turning to Silke. “They can’t all grow big.” Instinctively, I turned my head skyward. We all looked at the canopy for a second, which towered over our heads. Tilting our gaze back down to earth, Silke nodded. Pema and Francis smiled. “Alright then, this one?” I asked.

 

Unhinging the orange-handled saw, I climbed under the tree. “Here,” said Silke, taking a small bag out of her pocket. “What?” asked Pema. Taking a pinch from the bag, tobacco and rose petals, she gave some to Pema. Then to Francis. “Put it under the tree,” she said, “a little offering to the forest.”

 

“Can I have some?” I asked, holding out my hand from under the branches.

 

“Yes, you may,” Silke answered, smiling with red rosy cheeks. So Christmassy, that one.

 

We each made silent prayers of gratitude, sprinkling the herbs on the tree and the surrounding earth. When everyone had had their turn, I picked the saw back up. “Do you guys want to cut it?” I asked, turning to look through the branches at Pema and Francis. They eyed me uncertainly. “I don’t mean the whole thing,” I said. “I’ll start it, so you have a good notch, then you can just…cut it as much as you want. I’ll finish.”

 

“Okay,” said Francis, and he climbed under the branches to me. I smiled, then reached my hand toward the trunk, extending a silent word of thanks. Running the saw over the bark a few times, I made a notch half an inch deep. I have cut dozens, perhaps hundreds, of dead trees into firewood, but I’m not sure I had ever cut down a living tree. It didn’t resist.

 

“Okay, here,” I said, placing the handle of the saw in Francis’s hands. I pushed a branch out of my face, and placed the metal teeth in the notch. “Keep the blade lined up here, and just pull back and forth a few times. However much you want.” Francis ran the blade over the cut a few times, then smiled. “I’m done,” he said.

 

“Here, pup,” I said, “Do you want to cut?”

 

Pema climbed in as Francis exited. I handed the saw to her, and she gave it a few good pulls. “It’s hard,” she said. “Do you smell the pine?” I asked. She smiled.

 

A minute later, I had the tree down and the kids made as if to head back to the car. “Hey, before we go, let’s find out how old the tree is,” I said, thinking we’d appreciate the tree a little more if we knew something about it. Mostly, I was just curious. Nearly ten feet tall, the trunk was only three or four inches thick. “I’ll hold this stick,” I said, crouching over the stump and pointing to the rings with a little twig. Pema and Francis zoomed in next to me. “Every time I move it, you count.”

 

“One, two, three…” the kids sang out, their voices ringing through the forest. The sun had set by then, but we still had some dusky gray light. I counted along silently. “…thirteen, fourteen, fifteen…” We weren’t even halfway there. Hm. “…twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty…” This tree was older than... “…thirty-five, thirty-six, thirty-seven.” Thirty-seven? “Thirty-seven,” Pema repeated with finality. “Hey Daddy, thirty-seven! Just like you!”

 

*

 

“Francis!” I said, squishing my face uncomfortably. He had red paint all over his hands and apron. And…well, no, maybe not his hair. “Hey, Francis, wait…” I said, putting down my paint brush. I stood up. Having put up the tree the week before, which now shined cheerfully in the corner, we were gathered around Silke’s table, making ornaments. Strawberry walnut ornaments.

 

“Francis, let’s go wash your hands,” I said. “Pema, you can keep painting.” I glanced at the ten or so walnuts, still creamy tan, sitting on the table. Most of the others, drying in egg cartons, were now red. A dozen or so were impaled on toothpicks, a first attempt at drying, but the rest were just lumped together in a big heap. Rubbing my hands on my apron, I walked to the edge of the table to meet Francis, who, kneeling on the wooden bench, shimmied to the end. “Try not to touch anything,” I said. I turned my head for a second, in a move befitting the soulful R&B Christmas music that blared from Silke’s speakers, then heard a loud crash. I looked down to find Francis wailing on the floor. Per my instructions, he hadn’t touched anything with his hands, not even as he fell and landed on his head.

 

Growing up, my parents had a collection of walnut ornaments, painted red with green felt on top, which resembled strawberries. They were very simple, but what made them special was the fact that my birth mother, who died when I was a little child, had made them with my brother and sisters. Every year, as we decorated the tree, I’d think of her as we unwrapped crumpled pieces of old newspaper to find five to ten of those little walnuts huddled together, sometimes less. Over the years, some of the shells cracked in half, or fell to the bottom of the Christmas box, or the wire hangers fell out. We were always finding them, fixing them, and losing them. But those little walnuts are at least as old as I am, and the inevitable slog of time has had its toll. I had been thinking for years about making a new batch, sending some to my parents and brother, and sharing the memory with Pema. Now, I was finally doing it. And, there was a very special Boys II Men Christmas accompanying our brushstrokes.

 

Picking Francis up, I glanced at his head, then hands. “Where’d you get hit?” I asked. “Right here!” he answered between sobs, pointing a little above his left ear. I could tell he was okay, but it surely hurt. “Alright,” I said, “Sorry. I shouldn’t have asked you walk without hands.” I rubbed his head. “That was silly,” I said, “Bonks are for bonkers.” Pema laughed. Francis laughed for a second. Then cried as we walked to the bathroom to clean up.

 

*

 

After we arrived home from the forest, we got out Silke’s Christmas boxes and cleared the living room to make room for the tree. I had just clipped off the top, to fit under the ceiling, when I suddenly stopped. “Hey wait!” I said, holding the fragrant bough of evergreen in my hand, “Can you put on Christmas music?”

 

I’m not a particularly festive guy, but I fully expected Silke, who is the queen of holidays and crafts, and sings almost all day long, to have something worthy of the occasion.

 

“Sure…” she answered. Smiling cheerfully, she proceeded down the hallway to the stereo. A minute later, as I swept up the fallen needles, and Pema and Francis dug into Silke’s box of straw ornaments, Silent Night came on in a particularly rich four-part harmony. Nice, I thought. Then, just as the first verse ended, and I went to get the dustpan, the base kicked in. Sliding up and down in a rhythmic groove, the four singers, now in the throes of passion for their lovers, started singing about the sexiest, most romantic Christmas alive.

 

“Silke, what is this?” I said, eyeing my boss-come-girlfriend, a fifty-two year-old German village girl, with bewilderment.

 

“Boys II Men,” she said, then paused. “What?”

 

*

 

“Okay, pup,” I said, hurriedly preparing boxes for Christmas presents. “Can you hand me that newspaper?” Having finished the ornaments only an hour ago, Pema and I had returned home and delivered Francis to his parents. I was now trying to get everything ready before bed, so that after school tomorrow we could hit the post office and, I hoped, get everything out in time. “How many should we give them?” I asked Pema, scanning the pile of red strawberries. “I don’t know, Daddy. How many are there?”

 

“I don’t know. A bunch.”

 

“How about ten?” Pema said.

 

“Eh, let’s do a dozen,” I said, trying to be generous. I looked one last time at the little walnuts, then stuffed them into boxes along with a few other items. “Pema,” I said, “can you make a little card or something?”

 

“What about this?” she asked, handing me a Christmas rainbow she had made earlier at Silke’s. “Yeah, that works,” I said. “And what about that one?” I said, pointing to a Christmas tree she had made weeks ago. It was partly crumpled on the floor. “I could write a note on the back of it.”

 

“Yeah, okay,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. She was focused on her doll, not me. Having wrapped her baby in a purple shawl, she set it on the couch for the night.

 

By the time bedtime came around, I had taped up the last of the boxes, written the addresses down, and set everything aside. I was tired, but pleased. “How many strawberries are left?” Pema asked, as I ushered her to the toothbrushes.

 

“I don’t know, pup. Just a few. We put five on the tree at Silke’s. And I gave twelve to Grandma and Grandpa, and twelve to Uncle Peter. That’s twenty-nine,” I said, counting along in my head. “How many are in the box?”

 

Pema, toothbrush in hand, knelt over the box and began counting. “One, two, three, four…” she said. I pulled a piece of floss out of the dispenser, counting along with her in my head. “…five, six, seven, eight. There’s eight, Dada.”

 

“What? No…” I said, squinching my face in disbelief.

 

“Yeah, Dada. There’s eight,” Pema repeated, looking at me with certainty.

 

“Come on,” I said, as I walked over. “Really? That makes thirty-seven.”

 

“Yeah, but Dada, you gave two to me and Francis both.”

 

“Ha! That's right! That’s forty-one." Suckers.

 

*

 

A few days after we put up the Christmas tree, we walked to Bone Canyon. It was a school day, and the kids took turns dragging the little top of the Christmas tree to our classroom in the woods. It wasn’t very large, but the kids had still made occasion to complain. One child, Sara, had patiently dragged it most of the way.

 

When we got there, Silke stuck the little tree in the ground and put a pile of rocks around the base to hold it up. It was hardly a couple feet high, but everyone enjoyed decorating it. We used orange peels and whimsical ornaments made from juniper and sage. There was an angel, a star. Silke even made a little nativity out of pine cones and mullein. Baby Jesus was nestled in an avocado shell.

 

A week after that, the day before Christmas eve, I returned with Pema and Silke. “I want to bring one of the strawberries to the Christmas tree,” I said, “the one in Bone Canyon.” I had already gotten a text from my dad, a picture of the box in which I had sent the ornaments. Pete surely had his too. Francis, visiting his grandparents, had brought his to Texas. Pema had put one up in our room, and given the other to her mom, which hung on a fallen ponderosa bough stood up in a container of sand. Five hung on the thirty-seven year-old tree in Silke’s house. There were still a handful left in a box in my room, from which I had picked one, this one, for Bone Canyon. It was for my mom.

 

“I have a Christmas wish,” I said, looking at Pema, who had just carefully poured birdseed into half-shells of coconut and placed them around the tree, and a carrot beside them. She smiled excitedly. It was really a beautiful moment. Silke had straightened the bark angel. I had retied the juniper star. The sun had not yet hit the horizon, but the little canyon was already sunk in shadow. A cold wind blew. Bone Canyon, only a mile or so from Silke’s house, is nevertheless an out-of-the-way and secreted place. One would be hard pressed to find it even with good directions. It is mostly a haunt for animals.

 

My little strawberry, hung on a branch, swayed gently in the breeze. “My wish,” I continued, “is that everyone have the opportunity to do things like this, to be happy.” Pema and Silke smiled back. I knew my mother wouldn’t find the ornament. I knew Santa would not come to our house, not in a big red suit and not with eight reindeer. I knew that no angels would smile down on me, and wrap me in their wings. But I had a wholeness inside that vastly transcended that knowledge.

 

“I have a Christmas wish,” Pema piped in. Silke and I turned our attention to her. “I wish…well…I want a dress for my little doll.”

 

“Yeah,” I said, dropping my head to the little Mary and Joseph under the tree. Baby Jesus. Nice avocado, I thought.

 

“And…” Pema spoke back up. I turned to look at her. Her smile was tense, as though she couldn’t contain her excitement, a posture that always reminds me of my brother. My dad. My mother. My other mother. Megan, my ex-wife and Pema’s mother. The tree. Walnuts. Silke. Strawberries. Thirty-seven rings. A flock of birds flew by and Pema turned to look. We all did. Calling out to one another, the birds dipped and carved over our heads. I heard their feathers, shaking loose a familiar melody in my mind.

 

*

 

Boys II Men, a popular R&B group from the 90’s, was at the height of their success when I was thirteen. They made their success, like many R&B singers, whose voices are prone to belabored fits of ecstasy, by tapping into the emotional cravings we all have – for love, for protection, for family, joy and remembrance. One can hear it in the shivering pleas of their throats – baby, baby, baby – and whoever listens can’t help but have that same emotional chord struck from within.

 

Like many youth of my day, I was quite fond of Boys II Men. But I wasn’t familiar with their Christmas album. Not until now. In fact, in the last couple weeks, we’ve grown, you might say, intimate. There is one song in particular, You’re Not Alone, which makes Christmas swoon with desperate romance, causing me to slide my hips like butter as I shuffle my feet and trim the tree. I play it up. At one point, a la Barry White, the bass singer softly shares these words over the enchanting melodies:

 

Girl, this Christmas you won't be alone

You don't have to cry

You don't have to worry about a thing

All the gifts that you wanted this year

Are yours

You don't have to worry about him no more

'Cause he's gone

Don't live in the past baby

I'm your future

All the feelings that I have

Are here for you

Anything that I can do

To take away any problem

That you may have, or have had

I'm here

Just say Michael

And this Christmas is yours

 

I don’t believe a word this guy is saying. But I have a wholeness inside that vastly transcends that disbelief. And because of that, I can dance.

 

*

 

The birds passed and it grew silent. The little strawberry swayed on the tree. I turned to Silke and Pema, and smiled. I’m going to spend the rest of my life teaching children to dance.

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