“In the bleak mid-winter” of Christina Rossetti’s 1872 poem, Salvation Army bells and tinnitus warring for headspace, I am haunted by those who did not get to see December cast its chill upon the northern latitudes once more.
Visiting my father in Arlington National Cemetery, I gaze across row upon row, wreaths at their stony feet, and say a prayer for all the families missing loved ones. By one marker lies a photo placed with care — laminated to thwart the elements, someone thought of everything — of a family, patriarch missing but not forgotten. I hope he sees.
In the lives of its creators, media can make for cold comfort. The business of writing is a lonely one. Early in my career, I cooled on communing with the keys — Misters Smith and Corona, at your service — and entered the turbid waters of television, where a fool by any other name can fake it until they make it as a producer.
Doubtless my mother got TV’s existential state exactly right when she asked me for the hundredth time, “I saw your name on the program, dear, but what is it that you DO?” A little bit of everything, ma.
Friedrich Nietzsche famously wrote that there are “no facts, only interpretations,” and the great novelist of Capitol Hill hijinks, Ward Just, who died last week, told The Washington Post that “facts don’t lead you to the truth, they just lead to more facts.”
In an era of fake news, the elasticity of truth has become the bane of media as it caroms across the internet. Those in power who run down the press for what it misses fail to acknowledge what it hits. Yet those who blindly support it without calling out its failures neglect that the news cycle now spins so fast that every tweet and meme can be dangerous. Context is a lost art in news you can lose.
Into this media discern we inject the holidays at our peril. Hard to gather ourselves in a loving embrace when the seat of the country resembles its bottom, cheeky pols for whom impeachment is just peachy since the Senate will sing along with Mitch. The city on a hill wafts the scent of landfill.
Despite the dark midnight of our present national experience, I choose to awaken this Christmas before dawn, in hopes that Santa will bring a better year for us all. As I type, ghosts of the dearly departed dance on my keyboard. To the mists beyond the screen’s blue light I say “Hello, old friends!”
I see my mother’s mother, her old-school script like elegant lines of music. My father, a dyed-in-the-wool gentleman in a green sea of heroes for whom war is over and peace reigns. My boarding school buddy who made the New York tabloids his trade but encountered his ultimate deadline overdosed on a mainline road. My college advisor, ripped from us by cancer so young, and so inexplicably encouraging of this poor clay. I pull cards from old Rolodexes like plucking daisy petals. We see ourselves there one day too.
“So this is Christmas, and what have you done?” asked John Lennon. The bell tolls “not enough,” yet we press on, determined to try a little harder and suck the poison from the wound of the world. Peering into a future our children inherit, no one but ourselves can save us; none but a fool would cede the future to craven politicians. There’s gold in Matthew 7:12, “do unto others.”
What would become of Tiny Tim today? Is humanity crippled? Looking out from my final third, I see the latter-day uncivil war in America, and I insist on believing we can do better, love stronger, hate less, provide for more.
Dalton Delan is a writer, editor, television producer and documentary filmmaker. His column is copyrighted by Berkshire Writers Group.