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Belmont Club

Despite Ourselves

December 23rd, 2013 - 12:02 pm

It’s the time to remember O Henry’s old hoary tale about a girl who sold her hair — a valuable thing in those days — to buy a present for her beau.

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas…

Where she stopped the sign read: ‘Mme Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.’ One Eight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the ‘Sofronie.’

“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.

And of course the scene shifts in Henry’s tale to reveal the similarly impecunious young man saving up an impossible sum from his miserable income to buy Della some combs. You know — the kinds of things used to arrange one’s hair. And then they meet on Christmas day, he with the combs and she shorn of hair.

Eight dollars a week or a million a year – what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table. … For there lay The Combs – the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped for long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise-shell, with jewelled rims – just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone. …

The magi, as you know, were wise men – wonderfully wise men – who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

That the exchange of things should turn out to be, from utilitarian point of view, an epic fail is less important from O Henry’s perspective than the fact that they were gifts from the heart.

Today we are much richer than in O Henry’s day. No one would now give away anything so paltry as a set of combs, except in some wretched favela in a poverty stricken third world country.

Today — even in China — it would be Ipads, remote controlled drones, all expense paid vacations to some balmy destination, a car even. Things beyond the wildest imagination of people who lived 20 years ago. For even in our poverty we are become rich, in more ways than we realize.

A friend recalled that years ago he spoke to an old doctor and asked him about the “good old days” to which the old medico replied “son, in the past there were no good days. Before antibiotics you might die of a cut.”

“Do we then,” I asked my friend, “live in the best of times?” He thought long and hard for we had been talking extensively about the foolishness of the world and the stupidity of bureaucracies. But he reluctantly concluded that “yes we do live in the best of times.” For despite every effort to wreck things, people perversely create as if there were some engine that kept pulling us ahead in spite of ourselves.

The engine; the motor that made Della and Jim give all that they had and laugh at the loss; the unquenchable curiosity that drives science, technology and inventiveness over the stifling barricades of red tape, past the maddening narrowness of those who want their cut. It is a motive force we have long strived to name. For the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

And so it is possible, even as we reflect on the paltriness of circumstances, to wish you and all the best this Christmas and a happy 2014.

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Top Rated Comments   
Wretchard says: For despite every effort to wreck things, people perversely create as if there were some engine that kept pulling us ahead in spite of ourselves.

To me, this "perverse" human drive to create is a luminous reflection of God's perverse love for His creation and the creatures He made in His image, scarred and disfigured though that image has become. Christmas recalls us to the promised restoration of that image through the gift of the Word who became flesh to dwell among us. Thank you, Wretchard, and all who post here, for the courtesy as well as the wisdom that makes BC such a goodly fellowship. As the old English carol puts it, let nothing you dismay-- and may tidings of comfort and joy sustain all of you in the new year.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Christmas 2013

Do we live in the best of times? Yes we do, though there are those who believe a beneficent and bountiful God had nothing to do with it.

A Christmas greeting, though you doubt
I know your point of view
You say that it is all about
Enrichment for the few
Explain then why the birds can sing
And children play all day
And why do Fall days have that zing
That takes your breath away
Explain you cynics, how the bee
Can find his way back home
And fashion geometrically
A perfect hexacomb
And while you’re at it, tell me please
Why starlight flows in streams
And why is it one always sees
Himself as young in dreams
I’ll tell you why, you cynic you
The truth you will not hear
The Christmas story is all true
And happens every year

16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Merry Christmas, Wretchard, and thank you for the gifts you give us here every day.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (68)
All Comments   (68)
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Merry Christmas, Wretchard,
Thanks for all the thoughtful gifts of ideas and ways of thinking you have shared with us.
Merry Christmas to all the posters, the most interesting commenters on the web.
And if these are the best of times, it is because of the endless striving toward the light that Belmont comments demonstrate every day, for all these years since I came here around First Fallujah.
Wishing you all a wonderful 2014!
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
To me, every BC post is a gift, and I sincerely thank our host for providing such bounty. I hope everyone here has a blessed new year!
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
I ask indulgence for this second post.

Mehitabel33, your story of the Indian gentleman's penetrating and insightful comment that "If what you tell me is true, it's not only the most important thing -- it's the Only important thing." reminded me of a similar masterful demonstration of the inescapable power of the logic of Truth by C.S. Lewis, who wrote in "Mere Christianity":

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic, on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg, or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the son of God: or else a madman or something worse."

"You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

As Lewis' inescapable logic demonstrated, the Truth is that we can accept or we can reject - we have free will and can choose - but we cannot equivocate, we cannot have it both ways. Thank you for reminding me of Lewis' timely and incisive observation.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment

Wherebouts lurks the tip jar nowadays? I come here full of the Christmas spirit and it is nowhere to be seen.

Merry Christmas, y'all, anyway!
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Work, routine often unpleasant demeaning and unremunerative, has kept me from this thread. We are all better than what we have to do to survive or what the world, which is marred, does to us. Take a day, whatever your heritage, to reflect on the glory within and the glory beyond.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
A true story for Christmas Eve.

A Methodist minister on a plane to New Delhi found himself seated next to a Brahmin gentleman. The Indian and he chatted for a while about this and that, and the minister revealed his calling. The Indian, curious, said, "What is Christianity about? I've never had it explained to me."

The Methodist minister was a bit surprised, but sensing the seriousness of the man's curiosity, he explained: there is one God; he became incarnate as a Man and lived among us and taught us how to live; and he died to save us from our sins and open the gates of Heaven and eternal life to those who believe in him.

After a moment, the Indian gentleman said, "If what you tell me is true, it's not only the most important thing -- it's the Only important thing."

Merry Christmas, everyone.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
As the hour approaches here:

Merry Christmas!

O Come, All Ye Faithful
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
As a semi lurker, I work too much and don't get enough time to participate in normal hours, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a most proporous New Year. Wretchard be well and may God grant a you long and happy life. To the many erudite and insightful contributors may you and your progeny continue the remarkable lives you have shown in such exceptional ways, kudos. L3 may God guide you in your endeavours and may your family multiply. Walt, how else to say this,
Walt pens his words
always on the goal
Belmont Club herds
but never the shoal
To Kinucha, Old Salty, Machias and so many of you thank you for helping Wretch create such a wonderful and gay (oops there I did a no no) relationship over the internet, may you all and those I have not thanked for there beautiful knowledge of things, Have a great year this coming 2014.
From my small world of croquet, Wretchard if you can get the chance the pinnacle of our world is starting shortly after Christmas in NZ, if you get the chance stop on over and give it a look.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'd like to add my best wishes to you and your family Richard for a Merry Christmas and to all fellow Belmonters as well! May you have a Joyous and Blessed day and a Happy New Year too!
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment

Maligayang Pasko, sa iyo at sa iyo!


Old Salt
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
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