Christmas 2013

BLOG #52, SERIES #4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
CHRISTMAS 2013
December 25, 2013

Have you noticed how rarely anyone wishes you a “Merry Christmas” any more? This muddling of language has been happening for years now. No longer do people say “Good morning!” to us. Or “Have a great weekend! ” Instead , we are greeted with the inane “Have a good one!” Whatever that means. It matters not the occasion, no matter how significant, “Have a good one!” is becoming the new norm.

Only, at Christmas, we instead hear “Happy Holidays!” wherever we go. Since so many people wish to appear to be politically correct, they avoid specifics at all costs. Since “Christmas” appears to be a word burdened with spiritual associations, best not to mention it at all. Yet without Christmas there would be no “X number of shopping days until _____!” “Until what?” They’d be hard-put to tell you. Certainly not “until Thanksgiving,” or “until New Year’s Day.” No, they’re stuck with “Christmas” because of its well known tie-in to gift-buying which drives the economy every fall-into-winter.

But the little Lord Jesus in a manger does little to stampede the American people into shopping malls; it takes Santa Claus to do that. “Santa Claus,” who, as St. Nicholas, once was a deeply spiritual figure. Sadly, in American culture today, that rarely is the case any more.

IS THERE ANYTHING WE CAN DO?

I do believe there is: the next time someone unleashes another “Happy Holidays” on us, what if each of us greeted the perpetrator with a joyful smile and an enthusiastic, “And a very Merry Christmas to you!” If thousands of us did this, over time don’t you think we’d spike a lot of “Happy Holidays” cannons? Don’t you think it would at least be worth a try?

But that shouldn’t be all. What if we took the lead in organizing, supporting, and attending spiritual programs, films, concerts, events, etc.” What if we gave each other spiritually based Christmas books rather than those totally divorced from what the season ought to stand for? If not overtly dealing with spiritual matters, don’t you think that, at the least, the books we choose to give away, share, and read should be compatible with Judeo-Christian values?

All too often, we do our own version of a Pilate act: wringing our hands and complaining of how powerless we are to do anything about bad things. What if—instead—, we individually and collectively stood up for good things?

How about starting this Christmas season? After all, the Twelve Days of Christmas are just beginning. Christmas won’t be over until January 7.

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RHAPSODY OF THE SEAS & STORMS I HAVE LOVED

Yes, it’s possible to fall in love with a ship. They say there are only three perfect shapes in our world: a violin, a ship’s hull, and a beautiful woman—and each of these harmonizes with the other two.

Well, I just fell in love with Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas; it is that rarity: a near perfect ship (both inside and out). For a ship is either a work of art—or it is not. Perfect ships don’t just happen: they must be dreamed up by visionaries; visionaries who know that perfection rarely results from happenstance. It’s like a perfect dinner: every piece of it mut appeal to all one’s senses without a false note anywhere. As is true with a beautiful woman, it is impossible to define what makes her so; it is either there or it is not. I seek the same perfection in our books; indeed I agonize over every piece: the choice of stories (emotive power, length, mood, velcroishly impossible to forget once read, etc.), the position each is slotted into, the illustrations, the cover, the typeface, the paper—each is a totality that is either a beautiful work of art or it is not. Just so a ship like Rhapsody.

Connie and I have cruised on a number of beautiful ships owned by Carnival, Olympia, Celebrity, Silversea, Norwegian, and now Royal Caribbean. Several of them I have loved enough to incorporate into stories: Carnival’s Jubilee, in “White Wings (Christmas in My Heart 10); Olympia’s Stella Solaris in “Stella Solaris” (Tears of Joy for Mothers); and the Norwegian Sun in my upcoming Christmas story, “Journey” (Christmas in My Heart 19). But of them all, only Silversea’s Silver Cloud is as beautiful as Rhapsody of the Seas.

But I really didn’t fall deeply in love with Rhapsody until May 19. I had no sooner finished my “Thousand Miles to Nome” lecture for the entire ship when the waves began to grow as we faced the full 10,000-mile-across power of the Pacific Ocean in British Columbia’s Queen Charlotte Sound. By dinner-time, we spent half the time looking out the window at the gathering storm.

Each minute that passed, the storm grew worse—of course, loving the elemental power of storms so much, I’d personally classify such storms as ‘better.” In spite of sophisticated stabilizers, the ship began to rock. Occasionally a broadside-wave would hit us so hard you could almost hear the Rhapsody cry out in pain. Connie went to bed early so that she’d have something firm to hang on to. I, on the other hand, left the room and ricocheted from wall to wall as I attempted to walk down the long hallways. Few people were about, for they’d even had to stop the evening show part way through, fearing the performers would break legs or worse. But the venturesome ones who were out—well, we bonded, for it would have been great fodder for America’s Funniest Home Videos. We reeled – staggered – sashayed like so many thoroughly soused drunks. The wildest sensation was doing stairs, for when taking steps up, the steps would rise up to greet you; when taking steps down, the steps would drop away from you. I was so enchanted with this stair phenomenon that I did the aft set of eleven flights of stairs a number of times. What was really funny was seeing the look of disbelief on the face of a first floor staff member who couldn’t believe this lunatic was back for another run at it.

Afterward, since I couldn’t even stand up without crashing into something in our stateroom, I tumbled into bed and blissfully fell asleep to the night-long rocking of the deep while poor Connie couldn’t sleep at all. Come to think of it, Christ must have loved storms as much as I, for His disciples couldn’t believe it when He slept through a violent storm in mid Sea of Galilee.

I was reminded of several other great storms in my life, especially the one on the rim of Mexico’s Copper Canyon. We were visiting my brother, acclaimed concert pianist, Romayne Wheeler, and staying in his Eagle’s Nest studio on the canyon rim. A terrific storm hit, and the wind-driven rain fell up at us from the mile-deep canyon below, so it came at us from all directions. The battered studio began to leak like the proverbial sieve, both from the roof and from below through the shuttered windows. The two grand pianos getting drenched, we formed a brigade to help save them from ruination, sloshing around barefoot all the while. Terrifying because continuing lightning pyrotechnics could easily have electrocuted us all.

The only comparable storm I can remember on the sea to the one on May 19 (waves 40 feet high and 70 MPH winds) was one I experienced when I was 13 on a banana boat en route from Trujillo, Honduras to Tampa, Florida. This 300-foot-long fruit tanker ran straight into a full-strength hurricane—weather forecasting was still in its infancy back then, so we had no warning. In the absence of stabilizers, the ship rolled from side to side and frontally plunged deep down and then leaped sky high, to such an extent that almost everyone was throwing-up from nausea. But where was I? You guessed it: up on the top deck holding on to the railing for dear life as great waves all but buried me. Oh it was wonderful! My folks were too sick to care if I washed overboard or not. Undoubtedly the long line of New England sea captains in my paternal lineage has much to do with my reveling in the fury of great storms.

After the May 19 storm had run its course, the master of the ship, Captain Stein Roger Bjorheim [what intrigues me no little is that almost all cruise captains seem to come from Norway] came on the intercom and after-the-fact reassured us, declaring that the safest place to have been in a storm such as yesterday’s was in the Rhapsody of the Seas for she’d earlier on ridden out a Category 5 hurricane with hardly a scratch. That’s when I fell deeply in love with Rhapsody of the Seas. I yearn to tryst with her again.