By ROBERT WHITE
We have two nativity scenes in our house. They sit on the floor and anchor opposite ends of the hearth.
One is small and delicate. The other is not, being made of particle board with the identities of the individual pieces being sticker-affixed. Kris purchased the more utilitarian of the two so that the grandchildren could, in her words, “become better acquainted with the first family of Bethlehem.”
Cole was the first to make the pilgrimage. Were he older he would certainly be a fan of NPR’s “Car Talk,” his preference being indicated by his decidedly nuts-and-bolts approach to the problem of housing the homeless.
He began by evicting the holy family and turning the shelter over to the various beasts of burden, lock, stock, camel and miniature Mack trucks. Sensing that something was wrong, he backed two of the trucks out of the stable, loaded the family into one and the shepherds and wise men into the other and sent them all on the road, Bob Hope fashion, no doubt to entertain the troops in Afghanistan.
Colin came next, along with a platoon of toy “soldiers” that he carefully placed in historically accurate attitudes of milling about. “Look at the soldiers that have come to Bethlehem, Mommy,” he said when our daughter walked into the living room. “No, Colin,” she replied. “Those are Marines.” “How can you tell?” he asked. “Trust me,” she answered, quickly adding, “This is your grandpa’s house.”
Brady, a stickler for detail, ordered the Marines to the Pacific, (which may turn out to be where they should have been all along), moved the animals out of the stable and the family back in. The result was a perfect picture of the original scene except for the fact that he had both baby Jesus and a lamb in the manger. Asked what they were doing, he assumed the wistful look of all nascent intellectuals and said, “Playing chess.”
Ashton, being more advanced in years and with a river running through him, observed philosophically and wondered, “Was Jesus a fly fisherman?”
I love my family, and although this season is not simply about them, the story of Christmas is so interwoven with that relationship as to make them inextricable, one from the other. Kris reminded me of this the other night as we sat shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip viewing an episode of “Blue Bloods” as a salve to the cutting events in Clackamas and Newtown.
“You must write about this,” she jabbed, elbowing me in the ribs. The “this” to which she was referring was one of the many scenes that find the Rhegans, a prime-time television family, gathered around a dining room table only slightly shorter than a football field.
A four-generational family with a three-generational history of service as New York City police officers and U.S. Marines, they come together once each week for dinner “in the rectangular,” an event always preceded by the saying of Grace. They are a tough, street-savvy family that has lost its two senior women.
And though the father and grandfather sit at opposite ends of the table, as if to moor the household fore and aft, there is little of “Father Knows Best” to their presence. Children, grandchildren, adult-sibling rivals all have a voice.
It is no small risk for television writers and their financial backers to leap into the midst of prime time with an offering that dovetails family with faith. But that is exactly what “Blue Bloods” does.
There is an almost mathematical relationship at work here. The Rhegans, this solid, practical, surviving family, could no more not say Grace or not ascend the steps of their church to enter the solace, the hope that is the lighting of a candle in the darkness of loss, than they could not talk shop at dinner. If the geometry that is their family, their employment, and their faith is thought to be mere old-fashioned, knee-jerk ritual, then something fundamental to all scientific inquiry is being missed, that being the simple fact that — it works.
At a time when many in our nation appear to doubt if government works, it may give heart to remember what does. Family. Family works. As do “We the People” of whom families consist. We work. Or at least we do when we set our minds to it; when we resolve to it.
It doesn’t take much. Sometimes it can be something as simple as a sound. Forty-four years ago, while I was a Boot at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, a short, tough Filipino-American, wearing the unmistakable Smokey-the-Bear hat of the Marine drill instructor, introduced me and the fellow recruits in my platoon to a voice-less sound that spoke with purpose and will, emboldening the heart with collective resolve.
The sound was simple, a single “CLICK,” which, as each of 50 bayonets snapped precisely and in unison into place, fixed the mind and spirit. But more than that, it sent a message.
Send a message. Send it to the White House. Send it to Congress. Tell them. Tell them that the killing of our little children has to stop. Let them see the sun flashing off the metal of your outrage. Let them feel the cold shiver of their elected futures.
Email them. And let the “CLICKs” of your send buttons be heard again and again and again until the shame of what America has allowed to become chronic is no longer.
Robert M. White lives near Mt. Hood.