THE MADONNA OF HUMILITY, c. 1430
(Tempera on panel)
But the real deal is that there’s something about Christmas that, especially for those of us with a melancholic bent, points up the essential friendlessness of the human condition. Like most of us probably, I have many friends--good friends, kind friends, generous, loyal friends--and then in a way I have no friend. Like most of us, I try to practice "To have a friend, be a friend"--with mixed results. This isn’t a matter of self-pity; it’s more a reflection on the impossibility of the kind of Friendship we long for; of the fact that we all in the end, live alone, sleep alone, die alone, even if we’re with someone who’s pledged to share his or her life with us. It’s a reflection not on how nobody loves me but on how fundamentally difficult it is for any of us to love anybody.
It’s at Christmas I ask myself: Would my life have been different if, somewhere along the line, I’d learned to “manage” better? It’s at Christmas I ask myself along with the neighbors, and mindful of my own blindness: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” [John 9: 2]. It’s at Christmas I reflect, along with the protagonist in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find”: “I call myself The Misfit because I can't make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment."
It’s at Christmas I’m at one with the Zulu:
“In the beginning is the relation.
Consider the language of “primitive” peoples, meaning those who have remained poor in objects and whose life develops in a small sphere of acts that have a strong presence. The nuclei of this language, their sentence-words—primal pre-grammatical forms that eventually split into the multiplicity of different kinds of words—generally designate the wholeness of a relation. We say, “far away”; the Zulu has a sentence-word instead that means: “where one cries, ‘Mother, I am lost.’” And the Fuegian [indigenous inhabitant of
Tierra del Fuego] surpasses our analytical wisdom with a sentence-word of seven syllables that literally means: “they look at each other, each waiting for the other to offer to do that which both desire but neither wishes to do.”
--Martin Buber, I and Thou
ANNUNCIATION, BRONZE, 1967