By Bev Wilson
I know you fight back tears every time you hear the happy Christmas carols: Hark the Herald Angels Sing; Joy to the World; O Come Emmanuel. And I know you are stabbed with shame as your eyes sting, because it’s Christmas, for God’s sake. Everyone’s supposed to be happy, with lights and presents and cookies and candies and eggnog, and eager children with shining eyes, and everyone is a kid this time of year, aren’t they, flitting from gifts they want to get, to gifts they want to give, and rush and bustle, and you: are just tired. You’re so tired, and you can’t tell anyone because you don’t want to bring them down, not this time of year of all times. So you let them read what they want to read into the glisten in your own eyes. Well, hide the tears if you want to, but please, please don’t feel ashamed. You are no more tired than I was, and I cried every day.
The trip took forever. Even with our one blanket as padding, the donkey’s spine pressed against my own tailbone, each hoofstep ricocheting the two bones off one another until I had to ask Joseph to stop and let me walk, but of course walking was agony after ten minutes, with my pelvis splayed in anticipation of delivery, and back I’d go on the donkey. I stopped trying to hold in my urine after the first day, because it didn’t do any good; besides, it wasn’t like anyone was around to smell me, except Joseph, and we were both rank with sweat, anyway.
And then we arrived, to a town I didn’t recognize, overflowing with people, surly and tired and often drunk. I cried constantly, in front of every innkeeper in town, some more than once, and of course you know, reading this now, that it didn’t do any good. If I hadn’t already been in labor, I don’t know if we would have been offered even the stable. I wept harder when we closed the door behind us, but it was almost joy: so quiet after the rush and bustle of the streets, the scent of the ruminants’ dung sharper and cleaner that the human waste that was everywhere outside.
The night of labor I don’t even remember clearly, except that each of my screams was always echoed by one animal or another, an urgent bleat or bray or cow moan, and even in the agony that every grown woman I knew had warned me about and none had truly prepared me for, some part of my mind saw how funny it was, and in those moments, I felt God watching, saw him in Joseph’s eyes, loving and rueful and sorry, and for just an instant I felt unalone.
Then there he was: my son. Not Godly or holy, but squalling and blood-smeared and just like any other baby, and I wept — but not for joy. I grieved. I knew as he nursed that I would live to see him die, that his father conceived him within me for that, because somehow this all-powerful creator of the earth and the waters and the plants and animals hadn’t seen fit to make a world that didn’t require blood to atone for its wrongs. And not just a ram or a dove anymore, but a human lamb, not one to be simply shorn for its wool but to be butchered. God had stayed Abraham’s hand as he prepared to sacrifice Isaac. There was no one to stay the hand of God.
For unto us a child is born? No! Unto me! My baby, from my body, now suckling my breast. To be taken from me now, given to the world that doesn’t deserve him, so that the world can deserve him? Maybe I don’t deserve him either, because if it had been my choice, I would have fled, not just from Herod but from God, from man, from Joseph if I had to. There were caves, everyone knew about the people who lived there, odd people, but they would have welcomed us, and my son would have been the one to lay me to rest, as it should be. “As God intended,” as people like to say.
So cry now if you feel like it. Hide in your bed all month. Sleep through the grey days. The world has enough shepherds and wise men out there to make merry and to rejoice at the gifts they’ve been given and to give gifts that no one really wants. You are welcome to stay here with me, nestled against the donkey’s freshly rinsed belly, working up the strength for the long journey ahead.
Bev Wilson grew up in rural Kentucky but has called Massachusetts home for over half her life. Under the name Violet Wilson, she’s published a couple of dark memoirs about her… difficult… childhood and the aftermath of that, as well as a YA novel.