Saturday, December 24, 2011


                      Dear _____,

                      Every year on this day
                      for many years, I rum-
                      inate on this word and
                      at last I have an of-
                      fer to make to you, of
                      how to understand it.
                      I have to admit, this
                      comes on no authority
                      of revelation, but of
                      attrition, against so
                      many suppositions of
                      what hope is.

                      On a Christmas Eve
                      long ago, I watched
                      my mother walk to her
                      desk and sit down.
                      She opened a drawer
                      and withdrew a card
                      of her stationery, 
                      opened her inkwell 
                      and withdrew her pen
                      from its cap, and set
                      about the project of
                      inscribing to me a
                      message to accompany
                      her gift to me.

                      Abruptly, she turned
                      to my father, held up
                      her pen, and said,
                      "Here. That's all I 
                      can do."

                      Within two days, she
                      died of surgeries for
                      an unsuspected tumor
                      of the brain. She had
                      commenced her inscrip-
                      tion, and my father,
                      thinking her only the
                      worse for Champagne,
                      gallantly completed
                      and signed the note.

                      I was terrified; they
                      would be horrified,
                      with this disclosure,
                      but for their know-
                      ing that the nature of
                      my life would mean not
                      raising a family, and
                      having to give their
                      gift to me by other
                      means. I credit them
                      both with this percep-
                      tion, some many years
                      before I could accept
                      it. They didn't like it.
                      But they did love me.

                      Now, I will offer a
                      way of assimilating
                      this popular word. It 
                      is natural, possibly
                      the ultimate struc-
                      turing energy of our
                      system. It is not, I 
                      am viscerally certain,
                      a noun. It is only a
                      verb; not an object,
                      but an aspect of the 
                      act of living that is
                      passed on only congen-
                      itally, and so absurd
                      to address eschatol-

                      I am glad to have a
                      card signed by one of
                      them for them both,
                      with the material
                      verb being the only
                      word my mother was
                      able to write. Es-
                      chewing, as we did,
                      even the pronoun of
                      the first person,
                      that's the only word
                      in her hand and the
                      last one there would

                      Now we come to an oc-
                      casion renowned for its
                      invigoration of what is
                      called, "hope," and one
                      does not demur because it
                      simply isn't possible
                      to interrupt that act.
                      Moreover, anything which
                      encourages an apprecia-
                      tion of its universality
                      is not to be refused.

                      But you and I turn to 
                      lifetimes of seeing this
                      energy enacted in a vari-
                      ety of extremes, no lambs,
                      no shepherds attending, in
                      a very sweet awe at the
                      gift that it is. It is
                      fundamentally maternal,
                      inextinguishably maternal
                      of course, to be conscious
                      of it with almost every
                      breath. But it is assured,
                      it is secured within all
                      human life.

                      I used to worry, that hope
                      is an obligation; I nearly
                      would argue that it is,
                      but one need not. What is,
                      may I propose, an obliga-
                      tion, is the certitude
                      that at the end of the day
                      this is our energy, and
                      that we are its evidence
                      in what we give.

                      Not that one could know.
                      I would just like you,
                      dear _____, to understand
                      I am grateful to be your 
                      contemporary, and to know
                      I am.

Franz Josef Haydn
Die Jahreszeiten
  Komm, holder Lenz!

René Jacobs
RIAS Chamber Choir
Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
Harmonia Mundi, 2004©


  1. This was absolutely beautiful. thanks! I hope you are having a wonderful Holiday.

  2. QH, thank you vm for entertaining this suggestion; I do realise it is all a lot to ask.

  3. HBMS, I give you the high unlikelihood of Christmas's coinciding without joy, with any day of a message from you. Thank you for your sweet indulgence, it is the hardest thing to imitate.