I was en route to my second errand this morning, when my eyes beheld such a sight.
There, in front of the local hardware store, was a dancing Santa Grinch, “live and in person” , gyrating by the roadside. I honked my horn in support.
This, I assumed, was the incarnation of that well-known protagonist from the seasonal favorite, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. You know how this goes…the Grinch, a green, cartoony Scrooge for our age, dresses as Santa in order to deprive the Who’s of all their Christmas paraphernalia. As he stuffs it up the chimney, in a perverse reversal of the real Santa, he convinces little Cindy Lou Who that he’s on a mission to repair a broken tree light. Back in his lair, and devilishly certain that Christmas won’t come for the Who’s, he is befuddled to discover that the bling doesn’t matter one hoot. Christmas comes anyway. And, then the conversion happens…his heart grows 10 sizes that day.
But that’s not what moved me to honk. Or to write this. It was the ying/yang of the costume and all it conjured for me.
On an archetypal level, each character represents an idealized notion of some aspect of human nature. Santa, the caring, giving, grandfatherly presence; the Grinch, a lonely, miserly, mean-spirited creature. We see a similar dichotomy play out at the end of October…All Hallow’s Eve allows us to bring forth our shadow selves – we trot them out as costumes. All Saints’ Day, which follows, calls us to venerate those worthies who have been held up over the centuries for their exemplary lives.
Yet, we know, and sometimes delight in, stories of the dark side of Santa…the store Santa who was too tired or impatient, or drunk, to live up to our childhood hopes, or those of our parents. The Santa in “Elf”, who “sits on a throne of lies!”
Conversely, perhaps we are surprised about some Grinches in our own circles who display a spark of life and caring and love which their crusty exteriors belie.
This conjures an excerpt from the lyrics to “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter”, by Joni Mitchell, who, I find, often visits the theme of duality:
Behind my bolt locked door
The eagle and the serpent are at war in me
The serpent fighting for blind desire
The eagle for clarity
What strange prizes these battles bring
These hectic joys these weary blues
Puffed up and strutting when I think I win
Down and shaken when I think I lose
And don’t we split our natures, rather than join them? We segregate the parts we would rather not face, or don’t like so much, and we call them names. We allow our shame to deny their existence. We put them away in the attic.
On the other hand, we simultaneously highlight those things we admire in ourselves and make sure others are aware of them as well. We define ourselves by our virtues.
Yet, we are “both-and”, not “either-or”. The “either-or” kind of living, as Joni sings it, is like a battle. It leads to extremes of deflation and inflation.
The Saints were not perfect people. They were “both-and”. But, they just kept trying. They fell down and got back up. They, more than anyone, were aware of their shortcomings, but embraced them as transformational elements.
The everyday saints I know – the ones who are living faithfully, and showing up in church basements and meeting rooms, and/or in the church pews – have the courage to look at it all…the good and not-so-good. They have the humility to acknowledge that it’s “progress, not perfection”.
This way of living, for me, brings freedom. Not always freedom from my faults, but, freedom from duality. It is all me.
Which means, I could put on the Santa Grinch suit and feel perfectly at ease.