Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My Dusty Plastic Black Nativity

Until I had a kid of my own, I spent most of my adult life rolling my eyes at most holiday traditions.  I didn't buy a Christmas tree for my studio apartment when I was single.  I could barely find a spot to put the litter box.  I didn't decorate with lights and wreaths and candles.  I just didn't care.  The commercialism, the buy! buy! buy! attitude of Christmas irritated me, so I shrugged it all off.  Until I came across this plastic Nativity at a dimestore.

"My favorite Nativity: Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, and a Lamb" (resin and dust)

It's the first Christmas decoration I bought myself, way back in my twenties.  For many years it was the only Christmas decoration I ever put out.  Usually on my desk, next to the word processor my mom bought me to type out my always unfinished stories.  It would inevitably turn into a paper weight each year, holding down abandoned but not quite ready to recycle pieces of paper ripped from my word processor.

Some years I'd forget to pack it back up until it was nearly Christmastime again.  Might as well leave it out year-round.  It's gathered so much dust over the years that Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus' skin looks more grey than brown.  My ex-girlfriend Theresa, an African-American woman, would say their skin looks ashy.

"Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus need some lanolin from that sheep there!" she'd say.  Theresa and I long ago parted ways, but damn she was funny.

When I bought the Nativity, I thought to myself, is it racist for white people to own black Christmas knickknacks?  Is this too much like a white person collecting Aunt Jemima figurines, someone who hangs in their recroom tin advertisements from days gone by when it was OK to have a white spokesperson in blackface sling your loot?  

My dusty plastic black Nativity is the only religious relic we have in our house.  I think.  We've lived here over nine years.  I'm so used to it by now, I'm prone to not notice what's right in front of my face.  So there could be some crucifix or some Precious Moment angel planted somewhere in our house by some religious relative and I just haven't noticed.

We have a couple of Bibles that were given to us.  Oh, and we have a Buddy Christ figurine that watches over me while I cook dinner.  But the dusty plastic black Nativity is the only somewhat traditional religious figurine in our house, and even it's pushing the boundaries of what many white Christians view to be a proper Nativity.

I have no idea what Jesus, the actual man, looked like.  He might have had white skin.  He probably had browner skin than most famous European painters depicted him having, if you consider he's from Judea where a person's skin needs extra melanin to protect it from the sun.

I don't know what he looked like.  No one does.  I just know what Jesus' biographers said about him:

Matthew 22:36-40
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

I don't think Jesus paid much attention to what's proper.  Right, yes, he cared about "right".  Truth, for sure.  But proper?  I don't see it.  I don't think Jesus would care if a white girl kept a dusty plastic black Nativity in her home or not.  What I know about Jesus, the Jesus who resides inside my brain, is that he wanted to focus less on laws and more on love.

When I was in fifth grade I shared a bedroom with my sister Jenny.  We had this picture of Jesus hanging by the door.  It looked quite a lot like this fan art:


I developed this tic where I felt compelled to do two things with a fervor some mistook for religiosity, but  which I now think was a symptom of the obsessive compulsive disorder I would soon be diagnosed with, along with anorexia nervosa: I had to kiss the face of Jesus before I could exit our bedroom, and when I was away from our bedroom, I had to periodically look up at the ceiling or sky to acknowledge Jesus' presence.

I remember the moment I peaked my compulsion.  I was sitting in the living room with my sister Jenny and our mom, crossed legged on the couch, eyeballs aching from all the upward movement.

"You don't have to look up toward Heaven to see Jesus," Jenny said.  She smiled gently, knowing how sensitive I am.  It's due to Jenny's guiding love that I was able to stop rolling my eyes to Heaven.

So I keep no pictures of Jesus in my house now.  Kinda like an alcoholic should stay away from bars.  I don't want my twitch to come back.

I love my dusty plastic black Nativity in a less intense way, but that's good.  Sometimes I catch a glimpse of it and I smile.  It reminds me of my single days, back when I lived alone in a studio apartment with this dusty plastic black Nativity keeping this lonely white girl company.  Those days were lonely, but they were necessary for me to find myself.  All that alone time leads to the kind of introspection that helps a person grow.  In my twenties, as I sat in my studio apartment, alone but for my dusty black plastic Nativity, I was not ready to accept the warm embrace of a long term, human, relationship.  I had to focus on myself before I was ready to let another person into my life.

Now I have Will and Katie, and I'm excited about Christmas like I once was as a child.  A loving family helps summon the spirit.  So does a prescription for sertraline, which my doctor wrote for me when I visted her a couple months ago because I didn't want to get out of bed and I couldn't stop crying.

There are still plenty of reasons to cry in this world.  Just read the news.  But there are also many beautiful things upon which we can focus our gaze.  Will, Katie, and I went all out this year, displaying all our Christmas decorations.

Our living room

Our recroom

Things are pretty good in my life as long as I have Will, Katie, Jesus, sertraline, my dusty plastic black Nativity, and you, my dear friend.