Christmas and Stability

Orange Christmas lights, one slim blinking strand, draped over a deck railing on an apartment block across the street–like they were thrown from 20 floors below by some kid with a great arm, marks Christmas.

Christmas will happen. Happy flashes of colour, parts melancholy, haphazard moments of joy, a few frazzled tense moments, bits of pure sweetness, and pieces of worry for the absent ones. It all gets mixed together like some bedraggled batter we hope will harden into something tasty–and sometimes we’re amazed at the results, sometimes it turns out to be a Christmas cake that’s off, and has too many nuts. Either way, it’s not always a stable time.

Years ago I spent Christmas day with "The General." We shared a ham sandwich and a bottle of Weisers. It was a long day. The streets in downtown Victoria were gray and abandoned. I was of ‘no fixed address’ and The General lived in the Yates on some kind of pension. Our objective was to wait Christmas out until the relief of Boxing Day, and go back to the Beaver Pub.

Glass tumblerThat’s where our group met The General and gave him the name. He was a kind of add-on. He was always at the Beaver. And during those days, so were we.  Somehow, whether by accident or plan the General and I were the ones left over at Christmas.

The General was not a stable man. He sat bent, as though he had a truckload of war secrets. And in the Weiser slurry he unloaded most of them that day. I did what I do, I listened. The stories he told he couldn’t quite get straight…and I wandered, not remembering the stories only the dim room, the wood floor, cracked table and chair, the way The General sat on the metal-frame bed, tumbler in white-hand, his other hand straightening his dress shirt and and straying to his nick-shaved neck, and the way the room smelled of cologne.

The General was not a pathetic man. He was however a lonely man. As was I on that day.

A decade ago, while still thinking about becoming a Benedictine oblate, I read a paper on the physiology of love. It was fresh information at the time. The three MD’s theorized that our brain systems are not a "closed loop" but an "open" one in which other people influence our ability to properly function. They asserted that adults "continue to require a source of stabilization outside themselves." And that in every important way, people cannot be stable on their own. Seems Benedict intuited this 1500 years earlier when he made stabilitos one of the vows. Even highly cloistered Benedictines know that the vow of stabilitos cannot be made in isolation, let alone carried out. It’s like our limbic systems demand we be with people who regulate us.

It was, by all accounts, a shitty-70’s-something Christmas for both The General and me. Yet, it turned out we were something like each other’s saving grace. With our limbic demands met, we made it into the next day.


  1. OMG, the General!!! I knew him from a further distance then you, Steve. oh wait….maybe i’m thinking of ‘Powder Man’….ach, the memory isn’t up to things tonight. but i certainly remember the Beaver 😀 and some of the antics that our drunken state would put us in.

    now i’m not sure where Felize Navidad will take place. Does it matter anymore…yes and no. i am growing used to loneliness and wonder about it sometimes…..i think it is showing me i need quiet times more often then i ever dreamed. once upon a time i was a people junkie, so maybe i sought highs that way. don’t know.

    being away from my family for the last four christmas’s rendered a state of mind as i sat with just a few new friends and we talked trashed it for all it’s commercialism….yet we were still not sitting in the womb of the Mother during hibernation, the pagan midst of solstice. so who were we to trash much?

    while you were with the General i was probably with my family at it’s height of dysfunction , exchanging gifts through pained hearts, making us not quite real with one another , too many thickened walls not really reaching one another.

    how is it so many people can gather and go through the motions yet all feel lonely?

  2. Wendy, you pour out clearer than most of us. Your questions, questions too many of us flee from, will keep us moving closer to the “Mother,” were to my experience, we see the rags of our deflection, skepticism, and our need for an approving glance.

    You’ve nailed the paradox, the mystery of Mother… that the closer we get to her, the more human we become, and the more human we are, the more genuine we can be with each other, and the more genuine we are, the less lonely.

    Thing is, as you’re finding, it’s only by making some kind of an eremetic move that opens us to experience this.

    Thanks for this scout.

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