— By JOHN PAUL CARTER
One of my favorite Christmas poems seems relevant for such a time as this. It was written by Robert Frost and bears the unlikely title, “To A Young Wretch.”
The verses are addressed to his youthful neighbor who has taken his father’s ax and cut a Christmas tree from the poet’s hillside without permission. Defiantly, Frost declares, “It is your Christmases against my woods.”
Given the choice, the bard laments, “I could have bought you just as good a tree.” But remembering his own mischievous childhood, the poet knows that “a tree by charity is not the same as tree by enterprise and expedition.”
In Texas terms, it’s like the ordinary taste of a watermelon bought at the store in broad daylight as compared to the exciting flavor of one swiped from a neighbor’s patch in the dark of night.
Upon further reflection, Frost concludes that perhaps the boy’s interests and his own are best viewed “as opposing goods oftener than as conflicting good and ill.” He realizes that his goal to preserve his wooded hillside and the lad’s desire to cut his own Christmas tree both have their merits. The issues are really not so black and white.
Although his stolen tree is now held captive by “tinsel chains and popcorn ropes” in his neighbor’s window bay and has “lost the stars of heaven,” the poet prays:
“May, oh, may
“The symbol star it lifts against your ceiling
“Help me accept its fate with Christmas feeling.”
Sometimes in the heat of battle, like Frost, we misinterpret our conflicts as being between good and evil rather than a difference of opinion about which of two goods is the best. If I turn my opponent into a devil and represent myself as a saint, what chance do we have of finding peace on earth and good will between us – let alone better solutions to our common problems?
But beyond that, when I look honestly into my own heart, I often find ample evidence of deep divisions within myself. For example, when I’m speeding down Denton Road late for church, I want the patrolman to understand and give me the benefit of the doubt. But when the other guy is on my bumper as I approach my turn, I wish for a cop and want the law strictly enforced. How often our outward conflicts reflect our own inward divisions!
As the comic character Pogo once confessed, “We have met the enemy and it is us.”
“Lord, may that symbol star which our trees lift against our ceilings, help us to deal with our differences with Christmas feeling – especially when the holidays are over. Amen.”
John Paul Carter’s “Notes From the Journey" is a regular feature of Viewpoints.