Tuesday, January 6, 2015

clouded with mutual breath

We are waiting for snow 
the way we might wait 
for a train to arrive 
with its cold cargo- 
it is late already, 
but surely it will come.
--Interlude, Linda Pastan

This morning, I decided to wear flats on my walk to work.
I remember locking eyes with my rainboots, who steadily suggested:
you know it's going to snow today.
My nylon-clad legs thought of themselves wrapped cozily in the knit lining, sheltered from the wet white snowflakes by blue rubber.
But stubbornly, I pulled out the delicate black slippers, and thought of Sara Crewe in London snows, while really just commending myself upon my inherent and irredeemable laziness.
Of course, as Murphy's Law and poetic justice demands, the snow is falling fast and thick upon the hamlet of East Harlem.
I can't even mind it, because it looks so soft and sweet, lending an air of quiet to a clamoring city.

While discussing lesson plans with the dean, we heard the clamor of a marching band outside. It's the three kings parade! she exclaimed. We can't miss the camels!

 I instantly thought of the velvet monstrosities that stalked my childhood Christmas pageant play. Other girls got to play the Madonna, dressed so elegantly in blue polyester robes; or the lead angel (the sole player allotted wings) bringing good tidings to the miniature band of shepherds herding their flocks by the communion rail; and one of my friends was even the star of Bethlehem--oh how she blushed when her five points knocked into every one of the heavenly hosts of toddlers perched on the bleachers 'round the crib, tinsel halos all askew. But I, in my moment of stardom, got to play the camel leader. A role whose dire importance in the Christmas narrative Holy Scripture sadly neglects to record.

Thus, on my big march down the aisle. I took hold of the colorful cord--a makeshift halter for the rowdy beast. Inside this moveable, mammoth costume were the most good-natured fathers in the parish, who would bring the camel to life most realistically, meaning that (short of spitting at the congregation,) they would make as much trouble as possible as we lumbered down the aisle. The man who helmed the beast would make the styrofoam ball eyes (fitted out, of course, with the most grotesque eyelashes) stare at small babies, or would move the head, attempting to kiss the cheeks of ladies decked in Christmas finery. Then, sometimes, the back two humps--desiring more attention, or a longer saunter down their runway-- would simply stop, and refuse to move until coaxed insistently by a blushing, confused, and altogether flustered camel leader. When they reached the crib, the camels would genuflect so beautifully and soberly, like a goody-two-shoes pastor's daughter or a trembling cherubim, and not at all like the mischievous merry-maker who had joyfully trampled over all the hushed solemnity of the occasion.

Thus, we took ourselves to the front windows and peered out at the street; and I ran into the faculty workroom, to announce the joyful arrival of the camels.

Looking out of the large front window, we watched the small float bearing the three kings, finely dressed, pass by. Behind them was a small shed for the stable, with a plump little baby Jesus inside. His mother held him up, so he could see the cars and passers-by around him. He looked somewhat dazed, he certainly wasn't sure what all the fuss was about. And I wondered if the little Infant looked the same, when so many years ago, three foreign kings, smelling like desert wind, spices, and hot sand, and their noisy entourage barged into his quiet suburban house.

And behind that float-- the camel. There was only one, and he was dancing so vigorously, his costume was all mussed, and at one point, his head was significantly lower than his humps, which happens when you leave one man to bear the burden of the entire camel. And we watched and laughed, as the band music trumpeted and the drums beat, and folks rushed outside to take pictures, and the neighborhood seemed to come alive with smiles and kings and the peaceful dusting of snow.

I stood in that window, my face pressed close to the glass, and I felt a fondness for the scene unfolding, that I had become a part of. The snow pelted quietly down, covering the filthiness of the winter streets, and the awe and joy of Christmas that we had been longing for so long finally manifested itself.

I felt, then, a great gratitude to be one small girl, in one small red schoolhouse inside this gentle snow-globe world.

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