Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate it, even if you’re stuck with warm, foggy weather. We went out for Chinese last night, and I expect to see a movie today. I have many happy memories of Christmas seasons. Like a tourist, I’ve enjoyed the lights, music (I even wrote a couple dozen Christmas carol parodies for work over the years. It was therapeutic.), parties, decorations, the cold snap in the air of a new winter, and the general sense of cheer and generosity all around me. I also have some conflicted memories, like listening to the Nativity story from Luke at school (yes, I’m dating myself) and my first formal science experiment when I was 6. On Christmas Eve, I hung up, on our non-functional fireplace, without telling anyone, a construction paper-and-yarn stocking I’d made in school to test whether there was a Santa Claus (yes, I’d been a reasonably good little girl, so that variable was set). And the next day, it was empty. I was not surprised, but disappointed. At least I didn’t go around telling my little friends there was no Santa, or that he was dead, the way my 4-year-old son did (that’s another story).
Mixed feelings also permeate this week’s Torah portion, Vayekhi (how’s that for a segue?). It’s not exactly “and they all lived happily ever after,” even after 17 years. Jacob and his family are still in Egypt (Why?). In preparation for his death, Jacob, now 147, tells Joseph that he should be buried in the Cave of Machpelah. He blesses Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, younger before elder over Joseph’s protest, and formally adopts them, so Rachel will be the matriarch of three tribes, not two.
On his deathbed, Jacob says to his gathered sons that he will tell them what is to come, but there’s very little of that. Basically, he gives each one a “blessing” that is really a last performance review, as if this is the only time he says what he thinks of them (Right…). Of course, Joseph, his favorite, and Judah, the progenitor of King David, come off best, with Levi, Shimon, and Reuben at the bottom. Not the nicest send off from a father, but better than the cold instructions David gives Solomon in the haftarah, I Kings 2:1-12 about whom to reward and whom to kill. After reiterating his instructions for burial, Jacob dies and is mourned by Egypt. His family buries him in Canaan but leave their children and flocks in Egypt, showing that they intend to return (Why?).
Now that their father is dead, the 10 oldest brothers show Joseph they are still afraid of him, going so far as to fabricate instructions from Jacob that Joseph forgive them and even offering to be his slaves. Joseph weeps (again), since it is clear they still do not believe in his forgiveness and most likely never will. Years later, at 110, the ancient Egyptian equivalent of a full life like the Jewish 120, if I recall correctly, Joseph prepares to die. He recounts no prophetic dreams of slavery but tells his family (50:25), “When God has taken notice of you, you shall carry up my bones from here.” Joseph dies, and that’s the end of Genesis. Even if we didn’t know what was about to happen, there’s a sense that Joseph knows at least some of it. So this isn’t exactly a fairy tale happy ending. In fact, the Israelites’ story is just getting started.
64 People and Their Famous Last Words (selections)
- George Orwell’s last written words were, “At fifty, everyone has the face he deserves.” He died at age 46.
- Richard B. Mellon was a multimillionaire. He was the President of Alcoa, and he and his brother Andrew had a little game of Tag going. The weird thing was, this game of Tag lasted for like seven decades. When Richard was on his deathbed, he called his brother over and whispered, “Last tag.” Poor Andrew remained “It” for four years, until he died.
- When Harriet Tubman was dying in 1913, she gathered her family around and they sang together. Her last words were, “Swing low, sweet chariot.”
- When Sir Isaac Newton died, he was humble. He said, “I don’t know what I may seem to the world. But as to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore and diverting myself now and then in finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than the ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
- Leonardo da Vinci was also overly modest, saying, “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.” I guess the Mona Lisa isn’t good enough?
- Johnny Ace, an R&B singer, died in 1954 while playing with a pistol during a break in his concert set. His last words were, “I’ll show you that it won’t shoot.”
- Richard Feynman, a physicist, author, musician, professor, and traveler, died in Los Angeles in 1988. His last words? “This dying is boring.”
- John Wayne died at age 72 in L.A. He turned to his wife and said, “Of course I know who you are. You’re my girl. I love you.”
- Humphrey Bogart’s wife Lauren Bacall had to leave the house to pick up their kids. Bogart said, “Goodbye, kid. Hurry back.” Not quite, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” but close.
The new priest’s performance review
A new priest at his first mass was so nervous he could hardly speak. After mass, he asked the monsignor how he had done. The monsignor replied,
“When I am worried about getting nervous on the pulpit, I put a glass of vodka next to the water glass. If I start to get nervous, I take a sip.”
So the next Sunday, he took the monsignor’s advice. At the beginning of the sermon, he got nervous and took a drink. He proceeded to talk up a storm. Upon returning to his office, he found the following note on his door.
1) Sip the vodka, don’t gulp.
2) There are 10 Commandments, not 12.
3) There are 12 Disciples, not 10.
4) Jesus was consecrated, not constipated.
5) Jacob wagered his donkey, he did not bet his ass.
6) We do not refer to Jesus Christ as the late J. C.
7) The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are not referred to as Daddy, Junior, and Spook.
8) David slew Goliath, he did not kick the s#*t out him.
9) When David was hit by a rock and knocked off his donkey, don’t say he was stoned off his ass.
10) We do not refer to the cross as the ‘Big T’.
11) When Jesus broke the bread at the Last Supper, he said, “Take this and eat it, for it is my body.” He did not say, “Eat me.”
12) The Virgin Mary is not referred to as ‘Mary with the Cherry’.
13) Recommended grace before a meal is not ‘Rub-A-Dub-Dub, thanks for the grub, yeah God’.
14) Next Sunday there will be a taffy-pulling contest at St. Peter’s, not a peter-pulling contest at St. Taffy’s.
Hollywood Endings: ATALHEA (And they all lived happily ever after.) By IGP
Happy, moralistic endings became de rigueur in Hollywood movies starting around 1934 with the enforcement of the Hays Code. A few examples [SPOILER ALERTS]: In Booth Tarkington’s novel Alice Adams, Alice learns the futility of social climbing and decides business school won’t be so bad after all. In the movie, Alice gets the rich guy (no business school) and her father gets his glue factory. In the Broadway play, The Bad Seed, little Rhoda’s mother succeeds at suicide but not at murdering the cherubic psychopath. In the movie version, Rhoda is struck by lightning and her mother survives. In the play, Our Town, Act 3 is incredibly poignant because Emily has died and now sees how hard it is to appreciate life while alive. In the film, with William Holden and Martha Scott, Emily lives and all of Act 3 is her feverish dream.
I could go on. In fact I will, with my own proposed ATALHEA endings:
The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959-63): Dobie gets Thalia Meninger and Maynard G. Krebs becomes an upstanding citizen and marries Zelda. ATALHEA.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946): Before he has a chance to steal the $8,000 from Uncle Billy, Old Man Potter is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present (Clarence, Angel 2nd class). Potter reforms enough to rewrite his will, leaving everything to George Bailey, and dies of a massive heart attack as soon as the ink is dry. ATALHEA.
Romeo and Juliet: Juliet tells her parents flat out that she’s already married to Romeo and probably pregnant. Her parents throw her out and she runs away to Romeo. ATALHEA.
A Funny Legacy
Once upon a time there was a funny old man who told a joke a day to anyone who was willing to listen. Some days he told knock knock jokes, other days he narrated long stories with unexpected punchlines. Once in a while, he’d drop great zingers. The old man had no family, and the townspeople all knew him as an eccentric old man, but a little mad.
Finally one day, the old man died. The doctor was summoned. Upon examination, he found that the old man had been clutching a piece of paper in his hand, bearing what seemed to be a riddle.
“At the end of the last road
If a man his knees showed
To the ants scurrying merrily
Then find would he my legacy…”
the doctor read out.
Immediately the men gathered there out of curiosity hushed the doctor and began debating excitedly as to the nature of the riddle, and the supposed treasure, running out to spread the word and get a head start.
Overnight, the man became the most loved man of the town, people declaring their undying affection and swearing up and down that they’d find it because of the “special connection” they’d had with him.
“I remember when he told me the joke about the badger…,” they used to begin to reminisce.
Or, “I did my share of kindnesses to the poor fellow. He would love it when I lent him an ear to share those wonderful little jokes of his…”
Or, better still, “I shall cherish the jokes he told me. Poor man, he was like a grandfather to me. I’m convinced he hid his answer in the jokes he told me.”
For weeks after, many of the townsfolk were found trying their luck, ruminating over the many jokes the man had told, running to the town borders and hitching up their trousers near anthills, until the grounds became a common place for relaxation and communal merriment. Dances were held there, and parties and picnics as well.
A year later, at the funeral of another of the town members, a mourner happened to come across the old man’s grave. Remembering all the attempts they had made to find his treasure, the boy gave a wry smile and read the epitaph.
At the end of the last road
If a man his knees showed,
To the ants scurrying merrily
Then find would he my legacy.
A frown maybe, annoyance untold,
from greed to find another’s gold.
But he’ll laugh finally to see my legacy
Was the unity gained in comedy.