What to say? 2020

Cogitation 1, 2020 Friday 3 January A New Year, a new decade, an old question: What’s to say that hasn’t been said? Personally, what I haven’t said in 230 previous weekly posts? My, my. What to say?

My nephew, Graham, helped me with that question some 33 years ago. I’m dipping back to the letter I sent to seven-year-old Graham in 1986. The correspondence would have been lost in the mists of memory had my brother, last July, not alerted me to finding it while recycling files.

Franked at South Bend, IN Post Office on December 24, 1986

A New Year’s Letter to Graham

December 22, 1986

Dear Graham,

Thank you for the story and drawing you sent us at Halloween. I’ve enjoyed reading it a number of times and looking at the picture. I know the children in the story were glad to find out that, instead of a wicked witch, a kind lady now lived in the red house. No wonder she was puzzled that no one came trick-or-treating at her door. It took some brave children to go knocking there. I felt like I wanted to “dig in” too, to the lady’s offer of milk and doughnuts. That was a good story and I’m glad your Mom let you type it on her typewriter.

You said that over the Christmas holidays you plan to write a big story. I’ll be interested in reading that one, too. I’d suggest that on every story you write, you write your name and the month, day and year. Sometime you’ll want to look back at the stories and then you can tell which one you wrote when.

I’m supposed to be writing a New Year’s article for our church newsletter, called the Prairie Street Messenger. The editor is Esther Snyder. An editor is a person who decides if what you’ve written is interesting or useful for the readers of the magazine or paper. Sometimes the editor has to correct things, or tell writers to rewrite a story to make it better. An editor is a helper. At our church the editor doesn’t get paid for her work. Neither do the writers. We do this work because we’re asked to do it. Of course, we really work to make stories out of words and sentences because we like to, not?

One problem I have with a writing a New Year’s story is knowing what to say that hasn’t been said. That’s why I thought about your Halloween story. Halloween is very old and many stories have been told about it. You’d think nothing new could be said about Halloween anymore. Yet your story was fresh and new. You took the old and made something new out it; an original piece, it’s called.

Last night while I was popping corn I got the idea to write a New Year’s poem for our church newsletter. I worked on it some, along with this letter to you. This morning I worked on it some more. Maybe it needs some more work, but I think it can be enjoyed as something that helps us look forward to the new year. I’m sending you the poem, too, because I also gave Esther a copy of this letter.

I took this photo at Vickers Theatre in Three Oaks, MI. On Sunday afternoon we saw, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, there. Half the story is factual. All of it is inspiring. “It’s not only Mister Roger’s kindness that hovers over ‘Beautiful Day,’ but also his creative spirit. . . . the movie affirms his status as a hero of the imagination.” A.O. Scott, NY Times.

Happy New year, Graham; blessings to you and your Dad and Mom and Grant and Natalie. I hope to see–and hear from–all of you before the New Year gets too old. Here’s my poem. Guess what food is in it?

New Year 1987

Some New Year’s celebrants / Put a measure of oil / In a fair-sized pan / heated it over a blast furnace / And then added the proper amount of popcorn. / Because they couldn’t find the lid for the pan / The popcorn exploded into the sky / Forming funny shapes like clouds of bellies / Which the celebrants tried to catch in their hands as it fell / But their noise woke the whole city. / In every corner people looked out in fear and amazement / Turning on the radio after they heard the bleep, bleep on the TV / The mayor called the police chief to see what goes now / It wasn’t long before everybody, including sleepy children and dogs, / Were eating the popcorn and saying Happy New Year to each other. / The air over the whole region smelled buttery sweet for days / City crews spent hours cleaning up the unpopped corn / The oil that had been spilled / And the rest of the mess the people had made / Parents told their children not to eat or play in the popcorn anymore. / Some people wrote in the paper to grumble about the sweet smell / Some wondered why people have to celebrate anyway / They said it’s such a waste of time and creates lots of extra work / It costs so much for things that just get thrown away / Some said that the celebrants should have to pay to clean up the mess. / On Sunday morning, January 3, a woman named Mary got up in church / And said she was glad the celebrators had lost the lid for the pan / Because even though people grouched / Everybody in the region and people across the whole country and world / knew that a silly thing could bring a whole town together. / The happening showed that the Universe gets better, Mary said, / As people join hand in hand, some unknowingly, to celebrate / The One who is bigger than all the human race put together / Mightier than all the animals in the forests and jungles / And small as a baby born at Christmas. / Happy New Year!

Your uncle John

Needs editing, but looking at the letter “as is” reaffirms my faith in the creativity of children, the vicissitudes of daily life, and the word of hope from the mouth of Mary.

A New Year’s Eve tradition

On New Year’s Eve we gathered with Dean and Gwen and Willard and Alice at the home of W&A here at Greencroft Goshen. Our five-hour-dinner included hot crab spread, mulled cider, greens, 7-grain bread, chops, potato mash, Lingonberry-cranberry relish, cheese board with seasonal fruit, and cherries Jubilee.

Dick’s hot crab spread on pretzels and oat cakes, served with Roth House mulled cup. Mmm!

We’ve been part of such a gathering since 1999. Some of the members have moved; the current “parties” have carried on for multiple years. Guided conversation this year focused on “How shall we remember 2019, and anticipate 12 fresh months ahead?”

In our program/menu, Willard excerpted part of the 1500-line poem by W.H. Auden (1907-1973), “For the time being: a Christmas oratorio.” I like the poem’s sense of in-betweeness, almost a dispirited sigh at the celebration past and newness yet to dawn.

Christmas displays at the home of Alice and Willard.

“Now we must dismantle the tree. / . . . The Christmas feast / is already a fading memory. / . . . But, for the time being, / here we all are. / . . . To those who have seen the Child, / however dimly, / however incredulously, / the Time Being is, in a sense, / the most trying time of all.”

That’s where I’ve found myself this week, in the Time Being. I guess what I’m looking for is a greater shift in my consciousness to appropriating the story Christians celebrate at Christmas, the light of Jesus breaking into the world, appropriating that vision for the new year, the new decade, the newness wrapped in hope, ready to show the way through the most trying time of all.

Yet to say

We’ve enjoyed interactions, meals, conversations, with others this week and in recent weeks. These are friendship enriching and community-building moments of grace.

Angel going into storage for another year, but divine presence hovering about always.

Marty kept track of the miles we walked last year: 1,375.5. All steps count, many on flat surfaces, some on hills, some in mud, some with traffic whizzing by, some short, some long, all rewarding in their own way. Boots on! I breathe, in the words of an English vicar, Martin Wallace, that “Our life is a pilgrimage with and into the heart of God.”

From the booklet Celtic Reflections, by Martin Wallace (Tim Tiley Ltd, Bristol, UK, 2005)

We enter 2020 mindful of natural disasters, especially the fires burning in Australia, the unsettled and unsettling weather patterns; mindful of the voices of children and youth on the climate crisis; mindful of the danger of putting the advances of the economy into an unbalanced basket; mindful of God’s intent from Genesis to Revelation that creation be good and enduring (Genesis chapters 1 and 2, Revelation 21:5, note present tense). Mindful. Thoughtful. Thankful. Playful. Prayerful. Fulsome.


6 thoughts on “What to say? 2020

  1. Loved your year-end/year-beginning musings, John. Especially the re-discovered letter to your nephew and your ongoing parties that include our mutual former boss Willard.


    1. Many good things come from the “golden era” of our early careers. Thanks for the memory! All good things to you and Karen in the New Year.


  2. I used to enjoy the stories written by my students in various classes over the years, but I’ve come to realize that Graham was a master story writer with a very vivid imagination. I’m glad those stories resurfaced after so many years. Alas, a new year begins. I think 2020 has a significant ring to it, Happy new year to you!


    1. I’d love to see what stories Graham will come up with re hydrogen propulsion. All good things to you and Murray and extended family.


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