My dad posted one of his Christmas Stories this week on his blog, Development, at circleofhope.net/rodwhite. I had at least 3/4 of a mind to do the same before he did so I took it as confirmation. My family began writing Christmas Stories together when I was seven years old. I love it. Here’s some shared love from 2014:
On the Holy Mountain
by Ben, 2014
She stood helplessly at a measured, safe distance, staring in abject despair. How was this happening? What had gotten into her little one? Hadn’t she taught her better than this? Hadn’t she consistently, unswervingly, unfailingly admonished her against behavior such as this? It was unthinkable what her little one was doing. How could she do this? How!?
She was angry, frustrated, infuriated… scared. So utterly terrified she couldn’t move. How could she? Everything within her, every muscle and tendon was as taut as an un-sprung hunter’s trap—ready to snap and keep her there forever, or fling her away in a twang. Her nerves could capture her in stone terror, and she could bleed out eternity immobile as if her foreleg were crunched by an actual trap—or, and hopefully this was the case, she could bounce herself away in one bleating bound over any of the hills at the foot of this mountain. Just as soon as It took one more step in this direction, or maybe one more. Her body pulsed in readiness. She was twitching from the tension of this interminable moment.
The anchor of her heart, her baby, her final joy, her love, began to walk closer toward a danger greater than she had yet known. It was a fearsome brute the likes of which she had never seen that had her strung so tightly—so desperately wanting to run and so paralyzed with motherly love. How could she be doing this to me? How? Her initial cries of warning were now silenced in the overwhelming flood of fear. She had never been this still and at the same time so close to something so deadly.
She had spent the springs and summers of her youth in the high meadows almost carelessly, filling her belly with sweet grasses and clover. Winters were in the low country and sometimes there wasn’t much food but she never remembered the snow after a week or two of spring. She did remember the wolves that first fall in the bottoms. There among the moldering leaves of some river bend on the other side of the mountain they came nasty and snarling through the softened leaves—clever creatures that took down several of her friends that day. She didn’t remember the friends, only the blood on the muzzles and teeth of the wolves’. She vowed then never to bleed in a predator’s mouth. She wouldn’t be prey.
And this thing before her now was twice the size, no three times the size, or four, of those wolves that had stalked her. And they had stalked her. They had stalked her even when they weren’t stalking her, every moment of her life. And so, her promise to herself had stayed true. She had survived for many seasons and through many dangers real and imagined. She caught their scent on the wind and ran fast enough away. She listened long enough to every twig cracking in the trees, shot her head to attention and stayed stiff necked in vigil every time she suspected—every time. And it was worth it. It was all worth it. How many children had she brought into the world over those many seasons of survival? Four or five? One year there were two, she knew that for certain. This one would be the last. This one whom she loved and feared for with all of her would be the last one she would bear.
And her disappearing joy now skipped gleefully toward a monstrous peril. Though she had never seen one like it before she knew it would redden its lips with her lamb’s blood. Its teeth must be bigger than a wolf’s, because it was much, much bigger than a wolf. She saw its huge claws, black in blond paws with dark pads underneath. Oh God, she was close enough to see the pads underneath its feet! Why was she still there? The hulk had lay down in the grass in front of her baby. It flicked its long tufted tail and flopped its ridiculously shaggy head over its foreleg. And then the moment she had been fearing came. As her lamb stepped confidently within swiping distance of those mighty limbs. It opened wide its mouth to reveal teeth which were indeed larger than any wolf’s. She stood unflinching, now completely numbed by the impossibility of her circumstance. But instead of biting, the animal closed its mouth and licked her lamb on the head as she nuzzled into the shagginess below its chin.
Her lamb had done this so many times with her. She loved how her little one had always loved sitting right under her head. And she loved the peace of those common moments- sharing each other’s warmth in the cold of the early spring mornings. Occasionally she would let her own head rest upon her lamb for a minute. It was nice, but such luxuries of comfort were too lavish for the reality they lived in. She thought better of too much rest and comfort. Vigilance had proven a better friend than any other.
She had tried, as with any of the other little ones, to teach this one, the secrets of her vigilance.
Listen. Listen hard. Never stop listening.
It doesn’t matter what it might be because it could be danger.
Anything can be danger.
Some things you have seen before or heard before, although they were not dangerous before, could be dangerous a second time. Do not trust your previous experience. Nothing is certain. If you have not seen something or smelled something before it is most likely danger. Assume danger. And smell too. Many dangers come silently but they cannot escape the wind. Wolves sometimes know the winds, though, so you must look, and listen and smell, always. “Never not on guard” this was her motto. This was her survival.
All these lessons crumbled now before her in a broken heap. Her lamb was lying with this lying beast as if that monster and not she herself were the mother—as if life were not as she had known it.
“That was a yawn” she thought. “It yawned and then it licked my baby. ”
The lamb nibbled the whiskers coming from the predator’s face. After some minor snarls it gently, yes gently, nibbled her lamb’s ear. It bared its giant teeth and, probably more with its black lips than with those daggers for teeth, quietly corrected her baby and went back to its repose. What had happened to the world?
She no longer felt like she herself would certainly die. Her body was safe for the moment, but she could not let her instincts go. She could not believe even for a moment that what was happening was anything but the delay of her lamb’s death. She had failed as a mother. Her last viable progeny would wait patiently to be eaten by something bigger and fiercer than any menace this sheep had ever encountered.
Her muscles flexed and released, and into their softness spread the ache of rigid attention’s strain. It felt like safety. The burn of lactic acid reminded her of all she had known in her many seasons. Her body knew what was good more than she could shape a thought of it in her mind. She could trust that pain. And yet the scene before her undermined that faith. Could the lamb know more than her about this resting brute? It was obviously a killer. It could swallow her lamb in two bites. But it hadn’t done that. The two lay together in peace.
The serenity she saw gave her courage to reinitiate her calls. She bleated her most desperate cry of urgency. “Come! Come quick! Come away!”
The lamb perked her ears and bleated back in her tiny voice a sound so content it burned her mother’s ears. It seemed her lamb was falling asleep. The sides of the giant heaved in steady rhythm as well. The immediate threat was definitively over. Despite this, she could not, and this was her greatest shame, force her feet to fall any closer. Her lamb was just as lost now as if it were devoured. It might have well been eaten because where the lamb had gone she could not follow. As much as she wanted to rescue her lamb she could not approach their slumber.
Instead she slowly turned and fixed her eyes on the hills to which she had so desperately desired to leap. The mortal panic was gone but her heart’s direction hadn’t changed. She trudged away sadder than she had ever been. She managed a few sideways glances over her haunches and saw the same serenity. It confounded her. It troubled her. It cut her to the heart. How can this be? She lost herself in these mysteries for a time as she plodded up the hill and into a stand of trees. A twig snapped to her right. She bolted upright and stood perfectly still. Another crack! A human child emerged from behind a tree with a pack of wolves behind him. She flew left as if she were still a young sheep and disappeared from their sight.
The lion stirred and looked up to the hill with half opened eyelids. He saw the boy descending the hill with his pack. “Hmm, what good could come of this?” he asked.
He liked this fuzzy white thing that had come to take a nap with him. This mountain was colder than his home and he appreciated the warmth that it produced. It was so pleasant to sit at peace. He had a foggy recollection of some other pleasure that may have dominated a moment like this in his past. Something like hunger used to prick holes in any peace, but now he felt nothing but satisfaction. It seemed that everything that came to him was a gift — this fuzzy white thing, the perpetual fullness of his belly, the warmth of the sunlight on his face, and now these wolves led by a little child, yes “child”, he was previously aware of the small humans. He welcomed the one who was coming to him now and his wolf brethren.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea