It was the last five or so minutes of the Season One Christmas episode. It cuts between two scenes, a boy’s choir performing at the beautifully decorated White House, and a military funeral for a homeless veteran who had frozen to death on a bench at the Korean War Memorial. At the White House, the President, closest staff members, and scores of others, all dressed in their holiday best; at the funeral, four people, including the man’s mentally disabled brother, also homeless, and the White House Communications Director, who had never met the man,but whose donated coat—with business card in the pocket—the man had been wearing. The only narration, the haunting crescendo-ing melody and harmonies of the boys' choir singing "The Little Drummer Boy."
The West Wing is, in my opinion, some of the best television ever created. It is intelligent, fast moving, fantastically written and developed, passionate, engrossing, serious, sometimes humorous. It raised the bar, it was always excellent, and sometimes, like the episode last night, it stepped beyond excellence and into the realm of pure, unadulterated art, with the ability to capture, stun, amaze.
Last night’s tears were really good news. Some thawing happened, maybe is happening? and it felt so good, to feel something other than burning irritation, resentment, anger, to be moved, to experience the kind of aching that accompanies the heart opening, that is so different from the pain that happens when the heart closes up, is walled off, put away in some unconscious and misguided attempt to save itself from the anguish that in reality, it deepens, perpetuates, creates anew. To live so free of fear and self-protection, to have the heart rubbed raw… broken open… again, and again, and again. How glorious it would be to live in that state.
I remember reading a book in my late teens called Joy Comes in the Morning. For me, lately, I’m becoming acutely aware that joy comes, actually, not so much in the morning, not so much at some distant time, when things change, when I am cured, healed, all better, but in random unexpected moments. Walking out of Trader Joe’s to a sky on fire, not just ribbons, but yards and yards of red, pink, coral taffeta thrown against the still, blue sky. A lone pink and white fushia blossom hanging delicately, covered in fresh raindrops against a gloomy, gray landscape. The way my dog prances through the leaf-littered sidewalk; my timid and fearful cat licking my face; a quote, or poem, or even random words that inexplicably move me; a fictionalized television program welling something deep from inside.
I remember my favorite Hawaiian singer-songwriter Lono telling the story once of a couple of big, old, strapping Hawaiian men coming up to him after a performance, tears streaming down their faces, thanking him for his music, for the way that it just hurts so good. Indeed. There is sometimes a fine line between pain and pleasure, between sorrow and joy, and I know the experience these men spoke of, of something touching so deeply, that is experienced as so extraordinarily beautiful, it feels literally like it rips the soul open, and in the ripping, there is such enormous sensation, it is often labeled as pain. I have that experience with Hawaii in general, and with its music, with the Brothers Cazimero, Keola Beamer, and yes, Lono, the first time I heard him perform, tears streaming inexplicably over my own cheeks. Hurts so good. I sometimes think this is my issue with Christmas. There’s just something about it, the mix of warmth, love, mystique, family, candles, fog, music, the sacred, joy, fear, disappointment, excitement, surprise, loss, tragedy, heartbreak; a depth of feeling all intertwined inside, layer upon layer, until I don’t know moment to moment, one from the other, which to trust, how to open myself to one without fear and memory of the other.
It's in the little things. The big, little everyday things. And to opening. Or being opened, for I'm not at all sure it's something that can be decided upon and then accomplished. It's not like I can wake up one morning, decide to be more open, and wala, it happens. It's in that edge, in the intimacy, the intertwining of the two, pain and happiness, joy and sorrow, that are, in fact, not so separate at all. Khalil Gibran speaks of it in one of my favorite quotes from The Prophet:
The deeper sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your
laughter rises was oftentime filled with your tears...
When you are joyous, look deep into
your heart and you shall find it is only
that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in
your heart, and you shall see that in truth
you are weeping for that which has been