[Editor’s note: This year at Hutchmoot, John Cal not only fed us with delicious food; he nourished us with beautiful stories, providing context for each meal and what it meant to him. What follows is the last of his speeches, given on Saturday, October 6th—you can read his first one by clicking here and his second one by clicking here. Enjoy.]
Every morning you greet me
Small and white
Clean and bright
You look happy to meet me
Blossom of snow, may you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever
Bless my homeland forever
I am not one to make promises, but I promise the story is true.
I understand it’s hard to believe, in part, because it begins with me arriving early to class: Public Speaking 101 with Professor Blake.
One morning, a brief silence fell amidst a normally raucous room. There was humming from somewhere behind me on the left. Later I’d learn it was Michael Paradise. I knew the tune, somehow, and so did Yara Gomez apparently, who sat next to me, because when I turned to my left and we made eye contact, the words came in unison: “Edelweiss, edelweiss.” As if on cue, Stephanie Burks joined in, then Michelle Corson and Ryan McCullough; before long we were all singing at the top of our lungs and Mr. Blake was waving his hands about like a conductor, beckoning the Von Trapp family to sing, filling the Felsenreitschule in Salzburg with music.
I think about that day often, like magic, an unexpected gift, and I get it: it’s hard to believe, but I promise the story is true.
Now that we’ve become better acquainted, built spaces of trust, and dare I say, become friends, I would like to admit something to you, deeper and darker perhaps than my previous admission that I, much to the chagrin of Pete Peterson, have still not seen Star Wars.
I don’t celebrate Christmas, don’t like it, try to avoid it if I can, and am annoyed by the music, decorations, and lights. I find it the most aggressive of all the holidays. To be clear, I do love Jesus and am a big fan of his birthday. I am deeply grateful of his being begotten as the only Son of God, and annually, usually, around the 25th of December, I try to hold that truth in my mind, that I am loved and treasured. It’s just Christmas I can’t stand.
Sure, there was a time when I liked Christmas—what four year-old can resist the temptation of all those shiny boxes? But the pomp of it all lost its circumstance for me early on.
“Why don’t we make cookies for Santa?” my father would say to six year-old me.
“Because Santa isn’t real,” I would reply shortly.
“He left a note last year, thanking you…”
“The note was in your handwriting,” I would say, with a well-placed eye roll.
There are good untrue stories, like the one of Samwise and Frodo or Hermione and Dumbledore. There are stories that, while they didn't really happen, point to the truth, like that of Kalmar and Podo, or Edmund and Lucy and Aslan. But I promise these things happened. I promise this story is true.John Cal
At ten years old, I decided that cutting down thousands of Christmas trees every year and shipping them all the way from the Pacific Northwest to Hawaii was ecologically unsound and financially irresponsible; and so I declared that I would boycott Christmas unless my parents invested in an artificial tree. Even after my parents divorced, my father tried desperately to hold on to some sort of celebration, wrapping presents in bright paper and inviting friends over for dinner, though he was the only one in his household of two who was keen to do so. I tried, at least I think I tried, to allow him his festiveness by staying out of the way, but I’m also sure it isn’t easy to celebrate and revel in any sort of holiday alone.
But there was one strange Christmas, my favorite ever Christmas, a day that paradoxically restored my love for the holiday and further solidified my detest of it.
To my surprise, out of nowhere on the night of the 24th, my father asked, “What do you want to do tomorrow? I don’t have anything planned.”