I The Gift of Accepting and Becoming December 25, 2012 John’s 32nd Annual Christmas Poem“Find It at Manny’s,” read the obscured and faded sign above the door of the second-hand shop at the cornerof Souk Kahn el Zeit and the via decumanus on the Upper West Side. “’Manny’s’ must have stood there a longtime from the looks of the building’s façade,” mused old Jon Pilgrim as he navigated the narrow streetcoloured by what may well have been every character of vendor in the world. Faded, obscure and perhapseven archaic though it was, something out of the ordinary obliged Jon’s attention to “Manny’s” and, on awhim, he decided to wander in. Perhaps he would find a Christmas gift for his young granddaughter, Aly.On pushing open the paint-starved shop door, Jon’s senses were immediately piqued by a pungent scent thathe couldn’t quite identify – some sort of oriental spice mixed with a lingering rush of musk, no doubt from theage of the antiquities he found in the store. There was every adhibitious and well worn item imaginable - all,to be sure, of singular significance to someone – but not to Jon who, at this point in his life had found himselfa little like Manny’s – obscured and faded, musky and arcane.Not succeeding with his Aly-gift search, Jon ambled aimlessly toward the haberdashery section, a waste oftime he suspected – yet – “promising” - Promising, in that a voice in his head that he had not heard in a longtime, beckoned him on – on to find something for himself no, something of himself.“Well, clothes make the man,” Jon smiled semi-sarcastically to himself, for he knew that it is not what goes ona man that makes him, but what comes out of him. Then it dawned on him like the iridescent ignition of theMercury-vapor street lamp that incessantly illuminated the evening outside – yet creeping into - his bedroom,that this was his annual introspection, the journey inside himself that always manifested itself in a search forhimself or something of himself. However, this year bore the promise of something different because all thatwas within him convinced to him that it would at last be found.However, what was it? What did he seek and did he really want to find it, or was he afraid to find it. In findingit, would his perennial pilgrimage be past, his reason for existence realized and thus, retired?Perhaps restated, whom did he seek? Was it himself or someone else – perhaps someone for whom he hadsought his whole life? “Hmm,” he thought, “deep questions for such a season as this in such a place as this.”And then he thrust the thought from his thinking – he thought.Instead, a cold, somber shudder shot through the sinews of his shoulders – a chill; and he felt an icy grip graspat those shoulders. The chill proceeded perceptibly until it would but engulf the all of him, pushing him, everso slowly toward absolute zero, the temperature at which all motion would cease.
IIJon neither sighted nor sensed any heat in the place that would curb the chill; but he did notice in the corneramong all the other odds and ends, a Cardigan sweater displayed on a half-manikin form. No matter what elsehe perused in the shop, his attention returned to the sweater and he edged closer and closer to it until hereached out and touched it. And when he touch it, he experienced inexpressible warmth - not a burning as intouching a steaming tea kettle, but a warming emanation that raced from his fingers up into his arm. It sostunned him that he quickly withdrew the hand. Yet, the sweater continued to draw him toward it. There assomething pleasingly pleasant about the sweater that was comfortably familiar to him. Perhaps it was thefabric; perhaps it was the green-gold colour; perhaps it was the smell. Perhaps, perhaps . . .“That’s just like my Uncle Cee’s sweater,” he surprisedly thought to himself! This realization salved some ofthe unfamiliarity that had startled him and he again traced the sweater’s cusp, this time fingering its fabric,fiddling with the buttons - the buttons that were exactly like the buttons on Uncle Cee’s old sweater weddedto the wool fabric that, too, was exactly like the fabric of Uncle Cee’s sweater. Excitedly, he examined the labeland was not a soupçon surprised that it was the same size as Uncle Cee’s sweater.As he continued to ponder the sweater, he noticed that the second button from the bottom was missing justlike on Uncle Cee’s sweater. He carefully surveyed the sleeves and found a slight hole on the right sleeve justbelow the elbow. “As I remember,” he thought, “Uncle Cee’s sweater had a hole right about there, I canremember finding that hole with my fingers when I climbed on his back to ride on his broad shoulders.”Now, his uncle had been the only father figure Jon had ever known and he had passed away when Jon was buta young man. Jon remembered fondly times growing up around his uncle: sitting beside him in the seat of theold blue Dodge truck; picking up pecans in the big back yard; going with him to his office; and throwing thebaseball around with him. The times that he found the most remarkable though, were the breakfasts offlowery pancakes and sweet maple syrup when his uncle would always read the Bible and pray. In thoseprayer times, Uncle Cee’s spirit carried Jon close to the very presence of God. It was as if Uncle Cee and Godwere on first-name terms. “Those were times when my spirit soared!” Jon rehearsed wistfully, “how did I everlet myself outgrow them?”Gently, lovingly, he unbuttoned the sweater from the manikin form, removed it, and held it up. It felt likeUncle Cee’s sweater – no, it was Uncle Cee’s sweater. How very odd, yet how very wonderful it was. In astrange way, and though it should have, this episode did not strike Jon as surreal at all rather, it wore on quitenaturally.The next “natural” thing, then would be for Jon to try the sweater on. He remembered as a little boy, puttingon his uncle’s sweater and finding how bulky it was on him; how the hem had hung almost to his ankles; andhow the sleeves had dangled like ape-arms. It always made him feel “big” to put on that sweater, almost likeputting on the manhood of his uncle. So Jon put the sweater on and found it to fit as though it had beenpersonally tailored for him by one of the Brooks Brothers.Immediately, he noticed how the chill from his shoulders had vanished and how welcome warmth hadengulfed his torso. As he summoned the courage to look at himself in a gilt-framed pier mirror nearby, henoticed the thinning grayish-white hair of Uncle Cee, yet he found the hair to be firmly attached to his ownhead.
IIIHe continued to be amazed and overwhelmed at how well the sweater fit and suited him. “I’ve got to buy thissweater,” he thought to himself, “I wonder how much it is?” He took it off and looked for the price tag. Hecould not find where one was nor ever had been.Jon looked around the shop until he saw a Queen Anne’s desk in the back and bespectacled little man wearinga plaid shirt with a tie and a vest sitting at the desk. Assuming him “Manny,” he took the sweater over to thedesk and said, “Excuse me, Sir, are you Manny?” “What do you think?” was the answer from the man. “I thinkyou are,” said Jon. “Then I must be,” came the answer. “I’d like to buy the sweater, how much is it?” “It’s notfor sale,” the little man shot back, “you can’t buy it - but I will give it to you. Consider it . . . a Christmas gift.”Jon came back, “Oh, I couldn’t accept it without paying for it.” “Then I guess you won’t have it,” said thevested man – please, take it.” “Ok, then, I will,” Jon said.” “And will you need a bag for it?” the man inquired,probably knowing the answer already. “No, I’ll wear it out. “ – And he did.Jon must have walked for more than three hours up the via decumanus as it wound itself through the UpperWest Side. This was unfamiliar territory to Jon. There must have been a thousand people on that street,walking, talking, selling - watching - but Jon didn’t notice them, his mind and his spirit were somewhere else,perhaps in the past, perhaps in the future, perhaps not even here at all. The street began to climb and nowbecame a hill. Driven on by who knows what or whom, Jon pressed up that hill that day until he reached anoverhang at the apex where “on a clear day,” Jon thought, “you can see forever.”Dusk descended and the Mercury-vapor streetlights began to ignite. To the West, Jon immersed himself in themost beautiful sunset he had ever seen: surfer blue dashed with gold-tipped puffs of white popcorn gave wayto gray-toned streaks against a field of rose . . . now crowning crimson . . . now profoundly purple. . . nowmajestic midnight blue dotted with a thousand points of pure white-gold light. A gentle wind began to blow,then breeze, then bluster until it tousled Jon’s thinning gray hair and reminded his knees how far they hadwalked that day – and those years. “The sweater felt good,” he thought.As he watched the last mahogany lines of day nestle behind the dim-emblanketed city, he was reminded ofthe many sunsets and sunrises he had experienced with Uncle Cee, long since past. And he thought, “This isnot the end of an old day, but the beginning of a new one.” Jon reached into the right-hand pocket of thesweater and to his surprise (but not really) , he retrieved a small Testament Bible. He opened it and by thedim, iridescent dusk-light, he turned to the page that read, “I am the Way.” ”Yes, You are,” thought Jon, andkneeling by an exceedingly old fragment of wood, Jon, for the first time in ages, prayed - - and God called himby his first name.Epilogue – Jon found that in God’s acceptance of him, he could also accept the self he had become. Acceptanceis a gift from God – and perhaps acceptance of himself was the best gift Jon could have received that year;likewise, perhaps it was the best gift he could give to Aly and the best legacy he could leave for her. Here’s hoping that you find the “self” that both you and God can accept this Christmas. Granddaughters, Aly and Leslie and I wish you a Merry Christmas.