“. . . In a stable, dark and dreary, who will be the first to kneel . . .”

Who will be the first to kneel?

Who will be the first to kneel?

Among the contradictions, inconsistencies, and dissimilitudes in our celebration of Christmas [or the Winter Solstice or whatever you celebrate at the end of December] is a misconception about the definition of the word “humble.”  Dictionary.com first defines it as “not proud.” Then come the interesting meanings. “Having a feeling of insignificance, inferiority, subservience . . . low in rank, importance, status, quality . . . courteously respectful . . .”

Who in America (or any other Western country) wants to have a “feeling of insignificance, inferiority, subservience?” Not movie stars. Not professional athletes. Not recording artists. Not Rachael Maddow. Or Ted Cruz. Or Alice Walton.

NOT YOU OR ME, EITHER.

You’re educated enough to understand the word “dissimilitude,” and you have a computer of some sort. You probably drive a nice car and know the best restaurant in your city. (Stephan Pyles in Dallas. I’ve eaten there.)

Given all of that, whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Humanist, or none of the above, you would not be caught dead kneeling in a pile of cow shit. Might ruin your Gap jeans.

But, with the best of them—even you non-Christian folks—we sing, in the holiday spirit,

In a stable, dark and dreary,
Who will be the first to kneel?

(16th-century Polish carol, “In a manger He Is lying”). Never mind if you don’t know that exact one. You likely know “What Child

Vierne "Final." All those notes!

Vierne “Final.” All those notes!

Is this,” sung to “Greensleeves.” I have Muslim friends who, of course, don’t know those carols. But, believe me, there’s plenty of Ramadan sentimentality to go around. And, my goodness, Chanukah? So we all get ooey-gooey feelings about holidays based loosely on our religion.

Back to my original assertion—you wouldn’t be caught dead with your knees in a pile of horse manure. But you’d sing a song about it and feel ever-so-spiritual (or at least cuddly).

ME, TOO.

Here’s this baby in a place no self-respecting mother would give birth—a manger. Have you ever been in a barn where cows and other such filthy animals live? I’ve helped shoo the cows in from the fields to the dairy barn and sprayed the floor with water to keep the cow shit washed away so it doesn’t get mixed in with the milk. Nebraska, 1959 or so.

That’s as far from the windows of Neiman Marcus on Main Street in Dallas sporting their Alexander McQueen fashions as you can get. But I’ll bet everyone who buys one of those dresses either as a Christmas gift for his wife (do men do that?) or for herself to wear to the Christmas party she simply has to attend would sing

In a stable, dark and dreary,
Who will be the first to kneel?
At the crib where Christ is sleeping,
Who will be the first to kneel?

BUT DON’T GET SELF-RIGHTEOUS.

Those of us who buy our underwear at Target because we can’t afford McQueen will sing it, too. While we all refuse to kneel in the cow dung.

I’m not getting all holier-than-thou here. One of my heroes, Eleanor Roosevelt, said,

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

I’m grateful people like her keep things moving in (at least now and then) the right direction. But frankly, I’m more grateful I was born with weakness, fear, and timidity instead of courage. Epilepsy and bipolar disorder. And self-centered fear. I’m grateful I’m a wimp. Otherwise I never would have discovered that it’s OK to kneel in cow dung. In fact, it’s sort of a natural place to be. For all of us.

Not because I’m a piece of it—don’t get me wrong, I’m not groveling.

No, I’m (I think by this age I can be confident that I am) moving into the real meaning of “humility.” That is, “low in rank, importance, status, quality . . . courteously respectful.”

When I play the organ, it’s usually not very fast. I’m neither physically nor mentally adroit enough to play all those notes. (My “normal” temperature is 97.5.) Nothing about me is athletic—not even my fingers. I used to hate that my organ playing is best when it’s slowest.

Once when I was practicing at the University of Iowa on the Clapp Hall organ (destroyed by a flood) a friend—a real organist (played at the Mother Church in Boston)—wandered up to the loft. I was playing the Bach chorale prelude on Allein Gott (BWV 662), a languid work with the melody ornamented and strung out over a long introspective accompaniment. When I finished she said she was glad someone in the department could make sense out of that kind of slow music.

I resented it. I wanted to play the Vierne “Final” she was working on. No way could I then, or now.

And now I know. Or am beginning to understand. “Low in rank, importance, status, quality” is where I belong. That’s not self-hatred or any of those things your therapist or AA group warn you about. At least for me, it’s where I can pay attention. Where those mysterious tones we call music fit together so I can comprehend them. Where I’m most likely to understand anything. Anything at all.

In a manger He is lying
Who will greet Him as He sleeps?
Baby Jesus, infant Christ-child,
Who will greet Him as He sleeps?
Wake, ye shepherds, and as ye play
Gladsome songs and carols gay,
Seek the Babe ere break of day;
Seek the Babe ere break of day.

Angel hosts have sung their story,
Who will follow the bright star?
Told of Christ in all his glory,
Who will follow the bright star?
Wake, ye shepherds, and sing Noel,
Help the angel chorus swell,
To the earth glad tidings tell;
To the earth glad tidings tell.

In a stable, dark and dreary,
Who will be the first to kneel?

At the crib where Christ is sleeping,
Who will be the first to kneel?
Wake, ye shepherds, Seek out your King!
Play your songs and loudly sing,
Till the air with echoes ring;
Till the air with echoes ring.

Who are all those people shopping at the downtown Neiman Marcus. . .

If only they had a sign! At least on the parking garage behind.

If only they had a sign! At least on the parking garage behind.

. . . and why isn’t it pronounced “ ī ” as in “ice” as any self-respecting “ei” word would be?

The summer is almost over, and I have only two accomplishments to show for it. A glorious trip to Scandinavia and St. Petersburg, Russia, and an arthroscopic invasion of my right hip. Which is more important (if either is ultimately important) I can’t say.

All of those people shopping at the downtown Neiman Marcus aren’t, that’s who they are. Most people in the Dallas area wouldn’t know the store from the Dollar Store on Maple Avenue if it didn’t have a sign. That’s NM’s problem!—they don’t have a sign! If they’d put up a sign, they’d have more business.

I walk past NM on the average, I’d guess, six times a week. I use the NM parking garage across Commerce Street from the store three nights a week. It’s cheap. $2 overnight. No meter-feeding (Dallas is insanely vigilant about parking tickets). That is, I use the parking lot on Commerce Street when my hip doesn’t allow me to take the train downtown.

Taking the train comprises a walk across the new Parkland Hospital employee parking lot to the DART station, a ten-minute ride, and a four-block walk to the Merc on Main. A total of about half an hour—ten minutes longer than it takes to drive, and there’s no parking hassle at the end of the trip.

A friend who has lived in Farmers Branch (the first suburb north of the city) for 25 years told me not too long ago he’d never been to downtown Dallas. He’s been to basketball and hockey games at the American Airlines center, but it’s possible to get there without setting foot in downtown.

I don’t think St. Petersburg ever did much to destroy itself in the form of renewing its urb. They’ve had a couple of pretty disastrous wars that destroyed big chunks of the city, but I didn’t see much evidence that they’ve willfully gone into the center of the city and torn down old buildings in order to make room for ugly new ones. Perhaps they have and I didn’t notice those places.

Dallas, on the other hand, is fixing to tear down the oldest building in downtown (for all I know, in the entire city) to widen a street. That kind of self-mutilation is endemic to Dallas. As it is to almost every other American city. You know, urban flight (a self-delusional term for racism) and all of that demographic mumbo-jumbo. Urban renewal. Destroy the heart of the city to make a few hundred billion dollars for a couple of “developers.” I’ve written about it before.

Klyde Warren Park - renew or rebuild?

Klyde Warren Park – renew or rebuild?

Everyone knows the process.  White flight, urban decay. Urban renewal, decimation of the city. Suburban growth. Freeways. Freeways. Freeways. Homelessness. Homelessness. Homelessness. Billionaires. Billionaires. Billionaires. Tear down a few more buildings. Gentrify. Gentrify. Gentrify. So predictable.

You know what you can’t do with your own body? Stop suburban flight or renew the urb. There’s this suburban flight going on from the day we’re born, I think. I’m not going to press this metaphor because it’s too obvious, and I don’t have the poetic skill to make it anything other than ridiculous. The metaphor has been around for at least 3,000 years. “Remember now thy creator in the days of thy youth. . .” (1)

You can have all the arthroscopic surgeries you want, and you can’t renew the urb of your own body. Can’t be done. You can work out at the gym three times a week from the time you’re 20 until you’re 80, and you are not stopping the process.

Neiman’s stayed in downtown until it was—quite literally—the only retail store left. How could it leave? It WAS Dallas, Dallas WAS Neiman’s. Shall I carry the figure to its (il)logical conclusion? Neiman’s was (is) in some way if not the soul of Dallas, at least an image for the soul of Dallas.

Now it’s having a facelift (literally, there’s a sign that says so). And a little cluster of retail stores and restaurants and such is growing up around it. And more than a few of the old empty buildings (both retail and high-rise) are being refurbished, completely gutted and rebuilt and made into new businesses and  apartments. Thousands of people (with their thousands of dogs) are moving back to downtown. Not the kind of people who were pushed out when old downtown was obliterated, mind you. Not the poor, the tired, the humble masses who huddled in the rooming houses and inner-city apartments.

The urb is, once again, being renewed. And I love it. I want to live there.

Neiman’s can have a facelift. Dallas can build the Klyde Warren Park. My hip can be fixed (at least temporarily).

But it’s that soul, or the image of that soul that won’t let my mind rest. Dallas can’t be renewed. It can be rebuilt, but it won’t be the same city. Renewal is not the process. Remaking is, finding a new soul is.

Do I need to push this metaphor to its limit? A human body cannot be renewed OR rebuilt. To say nothing of a human soul.

Damn! I wish that had worked out.
____________
(1) Ecclesiastes 12:1-8, KJV.  Hebrew Scriptures and Urban Renewal

Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;
While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:
In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,
And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;
Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:
Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.

Towne Square Apartments; Employee Parking Lot; DART line rail (with yellow train); New Parkland Hospital. Can the urb be renewed?

Towne Square Apartments; Employee Parking Lot; DART line rail (with yellow train); New Parkland Hospital. Can the urb be renewed?