Can you believe how long it takes to wrap presents? It has taken days and days. It makes me wonder how it can measure in terms positive productivity. I’m a big fan of gifts bags, which take a quarter of the time to fill. But our event-shrewd daughter has shamed us into the labor of wrapping with ribbons and official tags—no folding a scrap of paper for a homemade label or simply writing the giftee’s name on the package.
So I’ve/we’ve been wrapping–endlessly. On a couple of our sessions we listened to carols. Today I listened to the radio—the news. It’s sad, dismal and scary. How to reconcile the woes of the world with hour after hour of this seemingly insipid task. The polar bears have to swim hundreds of miles to find ice fields for hunting. Christmas markets in Europe are attacked—nine dead. Leaded drinking water still plagues Michigan families. The country is divided as never before. Homelessness persists and in many areas it is on the rise. And then there’s Syria. Heartbreaking Syria. And so it goes.
How to proceed? To gather and sing? To toast? How to spend and waste and worry about how the presents are wrapped?
Otis showed a lovely film a few years ago called Joyeux Noël. It’s Christmastime during World War I. The Scots begin playing pipes and singing festive songs. A Christmas tree floats above the trenches. The French, German, and Scottish officers meet in no-man’s land and agree on a cease-fire for the evening. Soldiers mingle and wish each other “Joyeux Noël”, “Frohe Weihnachten”, and “Merry Christmas”. They exchange chocolate, champagne, and photographs of loved ones. For a brief moment humankind recognizes itself.
In a 2015 article in the Washington Post one of my favorite poets, Jane Hirshfield, discusses how poetry can change the world. She says: “Poetry is about the clarities that you find when you don’t simplify. Poetry is about complexity, nuance, subtlety. Poems also create larger fields of possibility. The imagination is limitless, so even when a person is confronted with an unchangeable outer circumstance, one thing poems give you is the sense that there’s always, still, a changeability, a malleability, of inner circumstance. That’s the beginning of freedom.”
Painting draws from the same well. And perhaps proper wrapping has a few drops in there too. To imbibe in these things with like hearts and minds provides much-needed harmony in a topsy-turvy world. It is a reason to celebrate. As are these holidays with their seemingly silly traditions like more elaborate wrapping. Small reminders of our humanity. and how lucky we are!
So cheers to you fellow-wrappers, poets and artists! Celebrate the season! And let’s look forward to a redemptive 2017.