Beyond Blue

I love how Anne Lamott describes her devotion to Mary in “Plan B“:

“You’re not supposed to love Mary so much, if you’re not Catholic, but I do. I wear a picture of her inside a gold oval frame, on a thin gold chain. Her arms outstretched in blessing look as if she has pulled the orange lining out of her blue robes to show everyone that there’s nothing hidden inside, no tricks up her sleeves. Golden light pours forth from the pocket linings as if, were she to put her hands back in her pockets, the light would be plugged up from inside.

“I wear Mary for two reasons: Because she helps me remember the song “Let It Be.” And because I used to pray to her as if she were my mother when I was coming down off cocaine. I’d lie in bed beside whatever cute coked-out boyfriend I had at the time, who’d be snoring and muttering while I ground my teeth in the dark.

“When I used to lie in the dark grinding my teeth, utterly whipped, surrender came, and then the miracle, motherly kindness toward my own screwed-up self…. Knowing this–that I could call on a woman who had been loved for so long, stretching backward and forward through millennia–could trump my self-loathing, and I would hail Mary even as I imagined hitting the man next to me over the head with my tennis racket.”

I almost blew it today. I almost told David there was no Santa Claus, or Tooth Fairy, or Easter Bunny. The practical, cynical, depressed side of my brain (the left) challenged the creative, optimistic, slightly manic side (the right) to a duel. For most of the afternoon, the left was winning.

I asked myself, why am I feeding my kids this Disney, make-believe crap that will make their fall to reality all the more crushing? Why encourage them to dream, when they’ll have to wake up to an alarm clock soon enough? The same rational voice that thinks it’s stupid to make a bed in the morning that you’ll sleep in again that night, who calls up family members to say “no gifts this year, right?,” and who doesn’t go grocery shopping because the planet is going to burn up anyway (whether or not we eat) wants to put the kibosh on the whole world of imagination because “life is difficult,” the first three words of M. Scott Peck’s classic, “The Road Less Traveled.”

But then I noticed the sheer delight on my five-year-old’s face as he watched five passenger cars round the corner of a magnificent holiday train display at Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville, Maryland. He clearly caught a whiff of the Christmas spirit, as did his little sister, who stood in front of the nautical-themed Christmas tree mesmerized by the mermaid ornaments and aqua tinsel.

How could I deprive them of this wonder?

I thought about a world without poetry, art, romance, and (ACK!) Disney. Standing there with David and his trains and Katherine and her mermaid tree, I remembered the words of veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church when he answered eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon’s question on whether or not there was a Santa Claus.

“Yes, Virginia,” he wrote, “there is a Santa Claus. He exists certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy…. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see…. Thank God! He lives, and he lives forever.”

Here’s the full text of “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus,” which articulates for me why we have to believe, love, and hope even when our cynical and depressed brains don’t want to:

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest man that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding. No Santa Claus! Thank GOD! He lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

All the Christmas movies–from the classic “Miracle on 34th Street” to “The Year Without a Santa Claus” preach a common message: faith is about believing without seeing.

In our family favorite, “Elf,” Santa’s sleigh, fueled by Christmas spirit, crashes into Central Park in New York City. In order to convince people to believe in Santa, young Michael (Daniel Tay) steals Santa’s logbook of Christmas wishes to show a news reporter.

“People believing after they’ve seen proof of me doesn’t count,” Santa explains. “Christmas spirit is about believing without seeing.”

Faith in Jesus operates the same way. In fact, the risen Christ tells Thomas the Twin (1 Peter 1:3-9) pretty much the same thing Santa told Michael: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

As a depressive, I have to believe. Even when I don’t see. When, like Thomas, I stretch out my hand to touch the side of Jesus but all I feel is more pain. I go on believing. Because my life depends on it.