A little Grinchiness (Sol Invictus)
I try really hard to be a good Dad and take an interest in every aspect of my son’s life. I’m not a fan of Christmas but I put up an ornate tree, buy presents and make an effort to give my son the best Christmas light tours that I can (which is what we did last night and what we’ll be doing tonight). When his mum was around, I tried hard to make Christmas special for her too. Every year we watch Polar Express and The Grinch and I read some of his favourite Christmas books out loud – just as I have been doing since his first Christmas. My son is almost 17 but in some ways, he’s still a little boy at heart. So I do all of these things for him because I think they’re the right things to do. But I really, really, really, detest Christmas !
I didn’t always feel that way. In fact as a small boy, I was always so excited about Christmas. It was by far, the best day of the year ! Even after I busted my mum filling my stocking, when I was ten. I still believed in the spirit of Christmas and that Santa was out there somewhere. Even in my early 20’s when I had a girlfriend, Christmas still seemed to feel special. But it was the one day of the year, that in many ways I felt most alone. My own family was scattered all around Australia and in Hong Kong and my girlfriends family hated me (and I largely hated them !).
Between the ages of 10-18, I would visit my dad in Hong Kong over the holidays and I’d get to experience Christmas on a huge scale. Even back in the 1980’s Hong Kong had the biggest and the best light shows and fireworks on the planet. For two weeks it was non stop lights, fireworks, crowds and shopping. But after a few years, it all began to become a bit tedious. First, there was the crowds – hundreds of thousands of people. And second, there was the endless obsession with stuff. I’d see millionaires pull up in their Roller’s and Bentley’s and Beamer’s and go home with a car chock full of stuff. People would be walking down the street with more bags than they could carry. And the taxis and Mass Transit Railway were jammed with people like a can of sardines. Then there was this other aspect that I was ALWAYS aware of. There were lots of people living on the street. Some of them were junkies and addicts of all kinds but many of them were on the street, through no real fault of their own. I remember walking through the night markets during Christmas (and at other times) and people would be splurging their money on gifts for Christmas and 10 meters away there would be people sleeping in cardboard boxes or on cold concrete. At that stage of my life, my Dad was kind of affluent by today’s standards (at least Ozzie standards) and so I felt this uneasy discomfort at being able to go home to a comfortable villa and having plenty of food to eat. Of course I never really benefited from my fathers wealth, so I also understood poverty. But right at that time, when I’d see these people, I’d feel like an imposter and like I didn’t deserve what I had (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome). I felt like I should try to help them. But the best I could do was to sneak off from my family and put a few coins in their cups or in their boxes.
At other times of the year, I’d go exploring Hong Kong – especially Kowloon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kowloon ) and the Walled City (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kowloon_Walled_City /https://soundcloud.com/roman-mars/99-invisible-66-kowloon-walled ). I was always struck by the extreme contrasts in how people lived – with the mega rich rubbing shoulders with those who lived on the streets and everything else in between. I had a suspicion, that some of the people living under the overpasses, in the drains, in the alleyways and streets and in the little patches of forest on top of the hills that dissected the city; were not necessarily good people. I had a sense of that but I didn’t understand it. Only years later would I learn that many of them were opium and heroin addicts and former triads. But most of them were just poor. Poor in spirit and poor in wealth. And many of them were disturbed mentally and emotionally. The only people that seemed to reach out to them were the Christine and Buddhist brothers and nuns, that ran small shelters for the sick and the poor. But they were stretched way beyond their resources, so many people missed out on the help they needed.
Later in India and the rest of south East Asia, I would see a different kind of poverty. But the impact on me was always the same. I felt like an imposter ! Walking around in good clothes, with food to eat and a place to sleep. And even though I felt a high degree of discomfort at seeing their suffering, I wasn’t ready to swap places !
In 1980 my parents split and the following year my Dad married a young flight stewardess from Malaysia. That year we spent Christmas in a Kampong near the town of Ipoh (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipoh). My step mothers family were incredibly kind to us and we heard countless tales about black magic and the supernatural. There were the spirit trees, who possessed the spirits of evil doers; the monkey ghosts – who’s disemboweled legless ghosts prowled the jungle for people with pure hearts; the headless tribesmen, who went looking for fresh heads to attach and the black cloud – a sentient dark amorphous cloud, that traveled through the jungle and into Kampong’s and peoples rooms, looking to steal your spirit. Not to mention the witches and sorcerers who lived in the many Kampongs that filled the jungle. I witnessed some very strange things during my stay and by the time Christmas arrived, I was thoroughly freaked out ! And when I woke up early on Christmas day, nothing happened. The day came and went without anyone noticing that it was Christmas. It was then I realized that to a Muslim, the 25th December is just another day on the calendar. Without meaning to do so, the people of Malaysia had crushed that special feeling I had carried for so many years.
Sometimes near Christmas time, my Dad would take my sister and I to another country for a few days. On the plane, I’d often see drunk Australians acting like dick heads and abusing fellow passengers and air crew. Invariably, my Dad would have to come down from the cockpit and sort them out. One time he even had to handcuff a guy who threatened to blow up the plane. The holidays (especially Christmas) were always the best times for dickheads !
By the time I arrived in adulthood, Christmas had transformed from a thing of mystical beauty into a thing of revulsion. Yet still I tried to enjoy it and to make it enjoyable for others. Last week I spent 2 days in Melbourne with my son, his girlfriend and his mum – looking at the Christmas lights and decorations and picking up a few presents. I had asked that no one get any gifts for me but my son went ahead and picked up a couple anyway. I would have rather been looking at the art galleries, the book shops, the botanical gardens and the state library. Anything but doing Christmas things ! But I did it because I care.
As we walked the streets, I began to notice a very familiar pattern. Scattered among the human rich streets, were several dozen homeless people. Some of them were begging and some of them were not. A couple were drunk or stoned and a couple were sleeping. A few of them had dogs that looked equally miserable, curled up next to them. I went to stop on several occasions, until my son and my ex wife gave me THAT LOOK, so I kept walking. But later, when we were inside some or other shop, I went back, under the pretense that I had to eat or pee (which is something I often have to do) and slipped 2 of them some money. It wasn’t much but it was a lot given I was strapped for cash myself. At one point I passed a young man who kept lowering his head and begging vigorously. Later I went back to him, gave him some money and said to him, “You’re better than this ! Don’t ever lower your head. You’re a human being, like everyone else. Have pride in who you are !”. He thanked me and started crying and shook my hand. I’ve met and worked with lots of people like him. My words probably didn’t make any difference but I wanted him to know that someone cares. Most of the time when I visit the city, I hand out $20-30 to a couple of people on the street. The next time I see them, most of them don’t recognize me but I always recognize them and say “hi” to them by name. A name is power and every human being deserves their own power. If I do one thing at all in Melbourne, I remember the names of the people I stop and talk to. Because everyone deserves the dignity of being remembered by name. I have a terrible memory for names but I remember people who had an impact on me.
My ex wife, my guides and Dude – all say to me that not everyone is worthy of being helped. And it’s true that not everyone is who they appear to be. Many people are on the streets by their own choice or by the outcome of their choices. The junky blows away his money, relationships and life by feeding his habit and filtering out everything else that matters. The alcoholic does the same thing. Both of them cause a trail of collateral damage everywhere they go. The man who hits his wife and hurts his children, sometimes gets evicted. The ex con sometimes has no place to go when he’s released from jail. But sometimes people get forgotten or displaced – the migrant who can’t find work; the son who can’t handle another day of school and runs away from home; the daughter who gets pregnant and has no place to go; the wife who can’t find a home after leaving the domestic violence shelter; the woman who sells her body to feed her kids; the man who has a mental breakdown at work and never goes home; the seeker who finally lost his way after seeing through the excitement of the Hare Krishna’s. Shit happens and people end up having to survive any way they can.
But we are all human and we all feel the same things ! Misfortune can happen to anyone. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me (1 Corinthians 15:10).
So here I was walking around the streets, feeling like an imposter again. And all around me the streams of humanity, walked on, as if noticing nothing. Indians, Chinese, Malays, English, Americans, Canadians, Australians and all the colours of the rainbow. Locals and tourists from every walk of life and every nation on Earth, enjoy Melbourne in the festive season. Melbourne is a city filled with affluence, especially affluent migrants (who buy there way to an education *) and the upper echelons of the Anglo Saxon world. All through the streets people walked on carrying huge loads of stuff ! Many of them people who came from countries that previously did not celebrate Christmas. And as I walked and listened to the conversations and witnessed the extravagance, it sickened me to the core.
As I followed my son and his girlfriend through the endless panoramas of the big department stores, plazas and arcades; I saw person after person arguing about what to get so and so for Christmas, other people splashing out big on themselves and people bumping one another and not apologizing.
A few days later I did the same thing with my son, in our nearest city (a place of over 100,000 people). It was so busy, that we had to park more than a kilometer from the main shopping district. Inside the shopping arcades, people walked around like mindless zombies, stopping here and there as if they were magnets flicking from one magnetic attraction to the next. In Big W, I asked one long haired young man how his day had been and he replied, that everyone was bad tempered, lots of old people had been rude to him and that several old guys had told him to get a hair cut. I encouraged him to ignore them. But honestly, a few days before Christmas and people think it’s OK to act like that.
I suppose I have three real gripes with Christmas. Why bother pretending to be nice one day a year and then being an asshole the rest of the year ? Why not be nice to one another all year long and buy gifts whenever the feeling arises ? And why splash out on material gifts at all ? Why not just do something nice for someone ? I mean really, this whole Christmas thing has gone way too far ! With so much of the world transforming The Birthday of the Unconquered Sun (Dies Natalis Solus Invicti – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sol_Invictus) into a orgy celebrating stuff, rather than the birth of Christ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas). I just don’t get it ! Imagine how much money is wasted during the so called festive season and the full environmental impact of Christmas on planet Earth ! For these reasons alone, Christmas is the polar opposite to what the man Jesus would have represented !
Don’t get me wrong I love the Christmas spirit and enjoy celebrating. And I’m a big fan of the Polar Express. But give me Krampus any day https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krampus) !
My feeling is that Christmas is all about the human need for ritual and ceremony. Most people in the developed world have no real significant rituals or ceremonies in their lives. Especially those rituals and ceremonies that represent significant rights of passage transitions through the life span. In traditional societies, boys and girls and men and women, had rituals and ceremonies that marked the transition from one point in life to another. And many of these rights of passage experiences transformed individuals by imparting sacred knowledge. We have this idea in the modern world, that knowledge is a right. We just Google what we want to know ! But in traditional societies knowledge was given and earned, when an individual was ready. And some knowledge was appropriate for males and some knowledge was appropriate for females. When knowledge is given and earned, the one who receives the knowledge understands the full context of the knowledge and learns how integrate and use that knowledge respectfully. Today we don’t have that. Instead, people assume that knowledge is their god given right and that they can do what they want with their knowledge, whether it’s accurate or inaccurate. Today’s knowledge comes without any ethical framework for how to use it.
Perhaps in a similar vein, Christmas comes without any real understanding of what we’re celebrating. We do things because we’re stupid and because we crave something meaningful. Christmas offers us the opportunity of practicing rituals – like shopping; wrapping the gifts; putting up a tree; decorating a tree; hiding the presents; putting the presents under the tree; opening up the presents and seeing other people happy with what we’ve given them; cooking a meal for others; and enjoying a fest together. Not to mention the feeling that comes with the preparation for these rituals and the ceremony that is Christmas. Of course Christmas also offers Christians the chance to remember the birth of Jesus and to ruminate on the myths of the man-god who has come to us through history and who will save us at the end of all history ! 😉 But mostly, I think for most people, Christmas offers us the chance to remember the things that really matter. Something that many people seem to be out of touch with. And something I’ve been trying to capture in my documentary film ( https://www.facebook.com/Before-I-Die-479800745376707/ / https://www.facebook.com/Before-I-Die-479800745376707/photos_stream?ref=page_internal).
Whatever it is that matters most to us, we seem to have masked it with the pretense that lights, trees, decorations and gifts will make everything OK. Rather than dealing with real problems in real ways that count, we turn away and gloss over them with pretentiousness. Dude continues to remind me that ETs are not compassionate. They just do what they do. They don’t have to make extra effort to show compassion. That’s a human problem and one that’s very unique to us. If we were altruistic in the truest sense, we wouldn’t need to give gifts during Christmas. We would care all the time about the needs and feelings of others. And let’s face it, we don’t. That’s why people can screen out the suffering of others and why people on the street go unnoticed and hungry. Ironically perhaps the people who best embody the spirit of Christmas live in countries that largely do not celebrate Christmas. Which is why some of the best Christian I’ve ever met, were Buddhists and Muslims and Hindus and Atheists.
I sometimes wonder how many victims get sacrificed on the altar of Christmas, in this temple of decay ?
It’s the day before Christmas I’m feeling a little Grinchy and like a bit of a Scrooge. I’ve tried my best to embrace Christmas for my entire life. But I’m over it ! I’ll be happy to get a piece of coal in my stocking ! 😉
Brightless Brighticus Garlicus.
* Since our federal government did away with free tertiary education in 1989, Australian tertiary education has become a buyers market; where universities, desperate to source enough funding, lift their quotas of international students, knowing full well, it will bring in a healthy revenue. Making the situation much more competitive and difficult for Australian students, who pay up front or through student loans. Ditching free education and opening the gateway to almost unlimited numbers of international students, has made tertiary education almost unafforable. With many students leaving university with what will become life long debts, that will impact on their ability to maintain healthy financial credit records and which will, in time I believe, lead to discrimination between those with an educational debt and those without it. Meanwhile since 1989, federal government spending on defense has increased from $ 7.7 Billion to 31.9 Billion this financial year.
Posted on December 24, 2015, in Rants and tagged beggars, Bright Garlick, ceremonies, ceremony, Christianity, Christmas, ET and I, materialism, oneness, poverty, rites of passage, ritual, street people. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.