You again, September
September. Day one finds me and the wife in a coffee shop beside the sea. Three couples, including us, sit inside the shop, forming a triangle. A young mother and her infant prefer to stay outside to take in the sea breeze and its healing salts. Being alone with her child, she might have come for some mending. If so, she has chosen the right place. “The cure for anything is salt water — tears, sweat, or the sea,” Isak Dinesen wrote.
While sipping our cappuccino and facing the sea, we espy a passenger ship traveling south. Distance has changed its size but not its whiteness, which, along the line between sea and sky, both a bit grayish today, turns it into something illusory.
The couple nearest us leave as the afternoon light, for a while covered by a cloud, returns, splashing our table, the side of it and me towards the west, with its gold. The young lady, whom the wife set an appointment with, arrives, and, so as not to disturb me, they choose to sit at another table. The shop plays a soothing sort of country music although I wish the management had chosen something classical, Bach or Mozart perhaps.
Music brings me back to September. At daybreak today, when a fit of coughing, mine, woke me up, I heard a Christmas song from next door, and considered it too much since only two months had passed from the opening of classes. Too early for “Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer,” I told myself, only to realize that had September arrived, at which time of year, in this part of the world, the Christmas season in a way already starts. I felt in my bones that in the malls today, the first of September, the shops would begin to display Christmas trees and Christmas decor and all sorts of Christmas things and to air the usual Christmas carols.
Being children of tradition, the wife and I must now plan, however, tentatively, for December, not so much for ourselves as for our children and grandchildren, and those who might expect to receive a benefit from us, some favor, bonus or gift — those who work for us and those we meet who might have nothing. In fact, planning for December does not differ from planning for the construction of a building or planning for a battle.
Luke writes in his Gospel that at one time, Jesus said: “Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms.”
Before this, Jesus had said, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
Clearly, Jesus meant by the tower to be built the architecture of our spiritual life, and the battle to be waged, the warfare that this entailed, between ourselves and the world with its secular values, the devil and his temptations and the flesh with its weaknesses.
All our planning has the joy of Christmas as objective; and this joy, like the fruit, sprouts from the flower of generosity, not just in material but also in spiritual things, especially, in the case of the latter, from the flower of self-giving.
The wife and I do not have enough funds to please everybody, but, using September as a door, we can journey through October and November as though December were already here, as though Christ already is with us, and he is, through his Incarnation. As T.S. Eliot puts it:
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
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