THIS WEEK, I spent one unseasonably warm evening at St. Katharine of Siena Church in Wayne, listening to children, kindergarten through fourth-graders, sing Christmas songs while struggling to act as grown up as they'd been dressed up to be (never saw so many miniature bow ties in my life, and I used to teach at a boys' school).
On the whole, they succeeded. The singing part, that is, which was angelic. The grown up part was a bit harder because the equation "7 p.m. + late dinner + under 10 + grandparents snapping photos" yields lots of energy. One little boy kept bobbing his head back and forth like a metronome, to the point that I wish I'd stuck Dramamine in my handbag. (Side note: Dramamine was the only thing I didn't have in my handbag, since I subscribe to the Monty Hall "ya got a paper clip in there?" school of organization.)
Anyway, it was an incredibly beautiful show, especially the finale, where the kids invited those of us in the audience to sing along with them. The tune was my all-time favorite carol, "Do You Hear What I Hear?"
And I suddenly found myself tearing up, while singing words that I'd know by heart from the age of 7. It wasn't so much the song, even though I really feel its soaring spirit, especially the line "A child, a child, sleeping in the night/ he will bring us goodness and light/ he will bring us goodness and light."
It wasn't even the fact that this is the first Christmas I'm feeling the full impact of my mother's death, which is now a fact that must be accepted instead of the fresh shock during last year's yuletide.
It wasn't any panic about not having the time or disposable money to go shopping.
It was this sense of gratitude that these children could distract me in their sweet, showy innocence from the meanness and the insanity of the adults. They were mostly tears of gratitude, mixed with frustration.
As I wrote on my Facebook page, this pageant was like the "Silkwood Shower," cleansing me of the nuclear poison caused by Donald Trump. The past weeks have been difficult ones for people who don't fit easily into any tidy political category. I certainly don't.
On the one hand, I hate people who take offense at the drop of a hat. It's ridiculous to dance around the fact that the massacre in San Bernardino was executed by a radicalized U.S. citizen and his jihadist wife. They were Muslims.
On the other hand, the radiologist who fought mightily to save my father's life three decades ago and who cried at his funeral was also Muslim.
So are many people I call friends.
So are some arrogant apologists at Center for American-Islamic Relations.
So are the soldiers on the ground in the Middle East fighting ISIS.
So are most of its victims.
Religion is relevant, then. But it's not determinative. And the idea that we're going to applaud someone who thinks you can bar an entire group of believers from the United States is frightening to me.
I'm more afraid of the people at Trump rallies who think he's an immigration and constitutional scholar, and are willing to draw barbed wire in front of a Muslim seeking admission. They parrot talking points they've heard on the radio and television, and lack any sense of doubt or humility. They call themselves Americans. I'd call them something else.
I remember seven years ago, when Sarah Palin was being ridiculed by liberals for being stupid. It was beyond offensive, and showed that progressives like to demean the intelligence of their philosophical opponents.
I vowed then that I would never do that. But I will also not ignore that some people, in order to maintain the integrity of their values, will not listen to facts. They will integrate opinion into their arguments, and convince themselves that their beliefs are objectively true.
They will also report statistics from polls with which they agree, and ignore the statistics from those that run counter to their preconceptions. You will try and discuss with them, calmly, the issues. They will take offense, and respond with a certitude that stuns, or at least cuts off the conversation.
If you say you can't exclude an entire group of people based on the way they pray to God, regardless of the deformation of their faith by others, you hear "Well Roosevelt did it with the Japanese." Actually, Roosevelt interned a lot of people, didn't exclude them, but he also refused to accept Jewish refugees from the Holocaust, and set up camps for Italian and German Americans as well. This was not based on religion, and this was during wartime, but it is now seen as having been the singular dark mark on an otherwise admirable political life.
This is not an example to bolster the righteousness of Trump's position.
And still we end up with a low threshold debate about all Muslims being potential terrorists so we have to keep them out. And the buffoon with the hairdo gets standings ovations.
That's why I had moist eyes at the Christmas concert. Those sweet, high voices were inviting me to listen to the message of grace, of welcome, a Christian message of hope. And all I could feel was gratitude that these babies weren't yet old enough to hate the stranger more than they loved their neighbor, mixed with regret that they would have to grow up, possibly under a President Trump.
Hence, the tears.