Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas and its Discontents

I had been irritable recently because I worked so much around Christmas. Time with my family and friends have been in such short supply recently, and I had so little during the holidays.

My dissatisfaction made me more sensitive to the general unhappiness of this season. The quiet discontentedness of people I see in my office in December is overwhelming. One patient put it bluntly: “Christmas is depressing.

This unhappiness is not due to the materialism that ads try to sell each holiday. Not one of my miserable patients was obsessed with presents or possessions. It is the wholesome things about Christmas that create the misery: the peace, joy, and family happiness. None of these things happen much in real people's lives.

Against this shinny myth of merriness real holidays seem so ugly. Modern Christmas is a microcosm of our American Dream: an expectation that harmony and happiness will always be our natural state. As a result we are miserable when we discover that our own lives and families fall short of our expectations. Materialism never destroyed the wholesome holidays. Ravenous buying is the degrading way we seek consolation once we realize the “perfect Christmas” we hoped for was a lie.

If we expected Christmas to be merry it is because we misunderstood the celebration. Christ was born because we are always so far away from hope and wholeness. Even the most jolly of families hides flaws, cruelty, and contradiction. These blemishes are most obvious when we try to manufacture a joyful occasion. Christ was born on Christmas day to save us from ourselves. We should rejoice because he came. We rejoice because He died for us, not because we imagine our lives or families to be anything worth celebrating in themselves.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Dancing on a Midsummer Night 1935

I was looking through a gridbook and found this review of the 1935 film of "Midsummer Night's Dream" written by myself as a sentimental 21 year old college student. I find it even more interesting as a man with a job and family who will turn 31 tomorrow:

Old Film can be dangerous. It undermines the illusion that the present is eternal. We will not always overflow with vitality, strength, and beauty. Tonight we watched the 1935 Midsummer Night's Dream. It was breathtaking. What affected me most were the long dance scenes of the fairies and goblins. The dance was beautiful and stunning. It embodied life and death, magic and love, passion and sadness, sexuality and strength. It made me want to rise and dance around campus.

But that dance was not tonight, it was 65 years ago. All the dancers (even the children) are either broken with age or long dead and decaying. Film gives us something entirely different from a live performance. A live dance lets us become lost in the furious passions of this moment. In this moment I feel bold and strong, and the women in my life are as beautiful and graceful as the dancers.

Seeing a dance from 1935 doesn't allow such thoughtless joys. We must celebrate with those long dead. We cannot help but see this spellbinding pathos of the dance within the context of time. This forces us the acknowledge that even our own nights of dancing out the youthful life that pulses in our veins will end. We too grow old and die. We are aging even as we dance.

Film lets us partake in these mad revelries with past generations, but it caries with it a sad taste of mortality. As T.S. Eliot declared, “The dancers are all gone under the hill.” The dance may be eternal but the dancers are not.

Unfortunately the first video I posted was deleted. This is another section of the film.