By Gerald “Strib” Stribling
I don’t like Christmas, never did like Christmas.
My kids used to get me drunk to get me to help put up the Christmas tree. When I was young, Christmas used to make me feel lonely, and after I got married in 1972, Christmas was full of relatives. I couldn’t get away from them. Lots and lots of relatives—mostly relatives by marriage.
My parents and sister and I, in the olden time, were a tight little group. Presents were purchased at the PX wherever dad was stationed, unless he was in Korea or Vietnam. My parents had no religious delusions to bog them down. The big event of the day was to eat Christmas dinner in the mess hall. Sometimes Santa Claus would show up, and then one year, there was an Indian chief. Don’t ask me why. He was really a master sergeant, but he was all Indian. He stood stock still throughout the meal in his war bonnet and buckskins, leaning on a coup stick.
I think he was a Comanche.
There is a Chinese Buddhist family I know living in Jakarta, Indonesia, Utang and his wife Felicia and their two lovely children, Keith and Rachel. Many Chinese are mad for Western first names. When I taught in China, the tiniest little ones were enrolled usually under their Chinese names, and I was asked to re-name several of them. I tried to match their new English names to their personalities. My teacher’s aides/translators had chosen their own, Heather, and Brittney, who named herself after Brittney Spears.
The only name I remember giving to one of them was a little girl: Iris. Her parents loved it.
Anyhoo, Utang’s wife is always posting pictures, most of them of Keith and Rachel. They’re very photogenic. Pictures of Rachel at 3 doing yoga in a leotard and a tutu are precious. But the one I remember most was Felicia’s picture of about eight or ten Chinese couples just like them, young marrieds with toddlers, having a Christmas dinner party. It seems many Chinese in Indonesia are really into Christmas.
That photo made me think of the monthly parties my parents and their friends had when we lived in Munich. Like my Chinese friends in Indonesia, we were a distinct minority in a foreign land, and celebrations were held “among our own” as opposed to not having celebrations at all. They were cultural Christmases, I guess, whether among Chinese business types or the families of the sergeants whose task it was to guard the Czechoslovakian border in case the Soviets attacked and killed us all.
Probably the most Buddhist-est Christmas of all was when my monk friend Nanda met us at “Granny’s” on Christmas day. We were having a pleasant enough time, when we heard a rip and a crash in the back of the house. It seemed that a big hawk had crashed into the screen of the screened-in porch, ripped right through it, and was stunned and confused, hopping around the porch wondering what to do.
I immediately took control of the situation by propping open the screen door at the back of the porch, and tried to “herd” it through the opening, with no success at all.
Nanda just rolled his eyes, grabbed the hawk up in his hands, took it outside and threw him into the air. His huge wings caught the breeze and we watched the hawk soar and disappear into the distance. We looked at each other incredulously. None of us was interested in getting up close and personal with talons and claws and a huge beak that looked like it could bite fingers off, i.e., we were chicken. But big, peaceful Nanda knew just what to do. We learned a lot that Christmas day.
This year, 2017, will be a harmonic convergence of my children, their spouses and all three little granddaughters living together in my house for three days or so, to go to midnight church services and to pick up loot. Pearl and I will likely escape to my man cave to watch Despicable Me movies on my computer while Thing One and Thing Two are taking their naps. Pearl and I have a rich love/hate relationship that dates back to my oppositional-defiant diagnosis when she was six months old. She’s a total angel, of course; she recently volunteered to play board games once a week with the residents of a nursing home, and remarked on the meditation value of playing with magnetic slime. But she knows my buttons and thinks it is great fun to make “Grumpy” mad when there are other people around, just to shame me and disturb my peace of mind and remind me that I am not the Buddha, I’m just a grouchy old fart with a life full of little grand-girls.
When she and I are off by ourselves collecting bugs, going fishing, or watching Despicable Me movies, she’s delightful.
So many people in my house, sleeping on top of each other like kittens. Trixie, my perpetually hungry Labrador retriever, will be in heaven: those girls will drop enough food on the floor to feed an extra two or three people. I yelled at Thing One not long ago because the second she hits our house she’s over pulling crap out of the toy basket and scattering it all over the living room floor. She got in my face and batted her long black Cuban eyelashes at me.
“Oh, Grumpy, are you having a bad day?” she asked with a brilliant smile.
Can’t even scare a five year old anymore.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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He wrote Buddhism for Dudes as a not-so-subtle, basic examination of the essence of Buddhist philosophy. It’s short and funny and to the point. “Way too much Buddhist information is too complicated to wade through, and some of it is fairyland voodoo, full of metaphysical improbabilities. Buddhism isn’t a religion, it’s a way to live a happy life. This is not hard stuff to understand.”
Stribling writes a blog called Buddhism for Tough Guys. “There are lots of tough guy Buddhists out there willing to take a bullet for anybody. One of their mottoes is ‘Just because I am a person who loves peace doesn’t mean that I have forgotten how to be violent’.” He once broke up an assault with a little kitchen broom. “It’s my best story,” he says.