The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Friday, December 26, 2003  

Here’s to the Good and the Generous

This was for me a quiet and uneventful Christmas. Pretty much what I expected and wanted.

I attended a beautiful midnight mass, awed once again by the beauty and power of singing voices that are thousands of times better than my own, inspired by the faith that years ago led to the building in Philadelphia of such amazing church edifices, and touched by the splendor of the Catholic mass. (I will add I was dismayed , though only slightly, to see that yet another parish has allowed applause and inappropriate contact with the wine chalice -- i.e., unpriestly, before distribution -- to interfere with the mandated course of the mass.)

I was invited to a Christmas dinner, but chose not to attend, a decision I will probably regret eventually. My sleep schedule is so completely whacked right now that I felt barely awake, and I strongly doubted whether I could be as sociable as the occasion demanded. It’s hard for me to meet and be with strangers right now.

I received just a handful of Christmas cards -- you gotta’ send `em to get `em, I guess -- but several well-chosen gifts from my friend M.D., including a book, Fortune is a River, into which I am far enough now to recommend it to you without hesitation. (Who knew Niccolò Macchiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci were friends? And that they together planned to reconfigure the course of the Arno River in the early 16th century? Not me.)

And from B., who sent not only two batches of the much-coveted butter cookies (made through the press), I received other gifts, including a package for Mildred -- treats appreciated more by Mildred than me, since after she eats them her breath recalls something from a creature in one of Hieronymus Bosch’s most horrific fantasies.

The biggest surprise was a package sent from a reader, the incredible L.H., a few items from my wish list given out of what I can only assume is the utmost and most heartfelt generosity, which I greatly appreciate. I promise that if I ultimately win an Oscar® for the screenplay that continues to whirl through my mind and that completely has taken over my latest jottings notebook, L.H. will be the first person mentioned in my acceptance speech. Hell, given my social life, she might even be my date.

This is not a happy time for me. I’ve been unemployed for nearly three months now, and time is running out. For reasons that are both my own fault and the result of the whimsy of fate, most of it bad, I very soon may be forced to leave Philadelphia.

My options are few. Actually, my options are one.

Barring a miracle or some new lease on a few more weeks in this city, I will be moving to a town that, lovely as it may be, is, in my view of the world, in the middle of nowhere, there to . . . I don’t know what. Hardly a mecca for the publishing industry, I suspect my most likely plight in this town will be to secure a position at a bookstore, one that would have to be within walking distance of my next hovel since I don’t own a car.

Things could be worse. Believe me, I know. I read not one, but two, Philadelphia daily newspapers, each regularly portraying the lives of people clinging to less of a life than mine. I am grateful for what I have and for what I know I someday will have again.

But when the friend who drives you to midnight mass sends you off for the night with three bags of groceries from her already no-doubt depleted pantry, and when you stock those gifts -- pasta, rice, soup, vegetables, and fruit -- in your empty cupboards and wonder how you thought you would survive another four or five weeks without them, you know you’re in trouble. And you know you have reason to be grateful.

Thank you, my friend.

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