The Love of a Grandmother

My dad isn’t the touchy-feely type but when he speaks of his mother and says that she was one of the kindest and happiest people he’s ever met, you can tell he means it. Now, I didn’t know Grandma Katie all that well and I was only 14 years old when she died in 1988, but sometimes I still remember her smile and I can still smell the baked ham she would prepare every Easter. Grandma Katie, who was widowed longer than I was alive, sat at the head of the table but hardily ate at all. Instead, she made sure everyone else was taken care of and she herself would return to the kitchen periodically to bring out a new dish or start a new course for the abundant Easter dinner. Grandma Katie left an impression on my life less from my own interaction with her than from the intensity of my father’s regard for her.

As Dante and I take our walks through Washington Heights, Harlem, and the Bronx, we frequently pass mothers and grandmothers taking children to school in the morning or walking them home in the afternoon. In Harlem, they might be from Black families who have lived in the neighborhood for generations. In Washington Heights, it’s Dominican immigrants with extended families. In the Bronx, we see women in head scarves from Central Asia or Africa doing their best to ignore stares and murmurs. But all of these women, just like my own grandmother, are doing their best in challenging circumstances to raise their children to be decent people. They could be single moms, widows, women working two or three jobs for the sake of family — all of them sacrificing themselves for love of their children and grandchildren.

This morning in Highbridge Park, Dante and I saw a woman picking through the rubbish bin, pulling out glass bottles and aluminum cans to trade for a handful of coins. My other grandmother, Grandma Carol, used to collect aluminum cans and glass bottles. She was a factory worker and the extra money she pocketed throughout the year she spent on my sisters and me at Christmas. There was hardly enough room around the Christmas tree for all the presents we received. As children, we had no idea how lucky we were — not for the gifts but for the love of our grandmothers.

Perhaps the woman in the park this morning is saving so she can surprise a child with a rag doll or a racing car. Or maybe she was earning some extra money so that her family might enjoy an abundant Easter dinner in a couple of weeks. This morning in the park Dante and I greeted the woman. She smiled back at us as we continued our walk.

~BT Waldbillig
April 3, 2017

Cowboy Wisdom

My grandfather loved cowboy movies and Louis L’Amour novels. He also faithfully read The National Inquirer, but we’ll save that for another day.

When I would spend time with my grandparents at Christmas or Easter and over summer holidays, I’d see L’Amour books scattered around the house. Naturally, I couldn’t help but think on my grandparents — who were so important to my childhood — when I came across this nugget:

“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.” (Louis L’Amour)

A useful bit of cowboy wisdom for those times when we face difficulty or discouragement.

~BT Waldbillig
January 7, 2017

Sol Invictus and the Christmas Celebration

If the Gospels reliably communicate any historical information, in all likelihood Jesus was born in spring, not winter. Details such as shepherds keeping watch all night in the fields with their flocks tell us there was no December birth. The temperature would be too cold to spend the night outdoors.

It turns out that the Christian celebration of Christmas is a synthesis of winter festivals from the ancient world: the Solstice, the Roman Saturnalia, the Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus, and the Jewish festival of light recounted in the Books of the Maccabees. One of the reasons that the Christian religion survived at all was precisely its ability to communicate its message while adapting itself to external circumstances. Christmas is the perfect illustration of this principle.

December 25 was, in ancient times, honored as the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti — the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun. It’s worth noting that Jesus is referred to in solar terms: the Sun of Justice, the Sun that Never Sets, etc. To honor Sol Invictus, there was a special feast in his honor on this day.

Something Jesus would have heartily approved was the reversal of roles that masters and servants observed today. Servants and slaves would partake of great feasts at the expense of their masters and owners. In some cases, though probably not too frequently as the Roman world was very rigidly divided between the free and the enslaved, the Master of the House would serve the meal himself.

Apparently, Sol Invictus was honored most when the mighty and powerful humbled themselves to take care of the poor, the hungry, the enslaved, the sick, and the marginalized. A nice thought for those who recall the birth of Jesus — who himself preached a very similar Gospel.

~BT Waldbillig
December 25, 2016

Dream of Sol Invictus

With Christmas nearly at hand, I offer a hymn to the original feast-holder of that day: Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun.

Here, I imagine a battle between Mars Ultor, the Avenging War God, and Silvanus, the Boy-God of the Forest.

– – – – –

DREAM OF SOL INVICTUS

The innocent maiden and the wolf pup sat upon a hilltop
Rejoicing at their salvation from the pit

While the Forest Boy who commands Mighty Warriors
Danced and sang for the girl and the pup

“From the darkest place emerges the brightest light
The moment of despair engenders invincible hope

Neither fire nor ice
Neither water nor want

Neither stones from the sky
Nor the wiles of man on Earth

Will ever drive out
The roots of the Great Tree

In the place of the empty heart
The light of Sol Invictus will shine

You who feared not the darkness of the pit
Nor disdained the wickedness of men and wolves

Led them from the place of darkness
To the long-awaited kingdom of Light

Ha! Foolish men!
You thought the maiden innocent and helpless

Ha! Furious bull and raging stag!
You beheld the pup easy prey

The pup has pulled you from the pit
By the knot of hair on your head

The girl dragged you behind herself
By your horns and by your nostrils

Let us taunt them
Without mercy, without rest

Take from the shepherd his staff
Kill the fiercesome guard dog

Exterminate their fathers
Make of their sons beggars

Humiliate their women
Make of their daughters whores

What can the Forest Boy do
Before the Mighty God of War?

He laughs, he dances
He sings, he weeps

While the dead dog you offered as sacrifice
Rises from the ashes

Extinguishing the fire of war
Without even a fight”

And when the boy finished his dancing and singing
When the rivers of tears dried up

The light of Sol Invictus appeared
And the world became new again

Behold, People of War and Avenging Gods
Sol Invictus has made of you all

Peoples of the Great Heart

~BT Waldbillig
December 23, 2016