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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Politically Correct Christmas? - A short story set in a possible future.

I wrote this story back in 1989 when we began to see more and more words change to be politically correct, and it was just about the time when the book, Doublespeak, was published. The ideas in this story grew into my book, An Underground Jewell.  In the book, the heroine is the author of the story, and it is the story that gets her in trouble with the government.  This year, the news is full of stories related to changing Christmas to Holiday, no Christmas trees and so many other things.  It just seemed right that I share this with you.

An Underground Christmas
By Sylvia L. Ramsey

          Man had finally destroyed almost everything that had once been a beautiful Garden of Eden.  Scientist had tried for years to get the people to change their ways, to preserve what they had left, and try to recover some of what they had lost.  No one listened until it was too late.  The last and only hope for man, and the planet upon which he lived, would require drastic steps.
        Man’s only hope for survival was to live underground, use only solar energy, and hope that what was left of nature combined with what scientists had learned might, one day, renew the earth to something near its former glory. 
       Many of Earth’s inhabitants had been sent to live in space stations to help relieve the stress they put on the planet.  Those who remained had been allowed to stay because of their knowledge was required to complete the underground world.  The only other people who were allowed to remain behind were various support personnel. 
        Christmas Eve had been designated as the day for those remaining residents to give a trial run for their new life underground.  This would give the government a chance to check out all of the systems.  While the majority of the people were underground, several crews would be above ground getting rid of many of the buildings and remains that were still standing eyesores.  Another group would be checking out the underground ecology warning system, and the master computer that would control all aspects of man’s new world.
       If the experiment worked, the entire population left on earth would move to their permanent quarters underground for an indefinite time.  Everything possible that was man-made would be eliminated from the surface of the earth.  An all out effort would be made to restore the surface to its original state when nature had flourished. 

The First Christmas Underground

         The children were going to spend the night with their grandparents in their underground quarters because the children’s parents were both ecology scientists and would be working above ground.  Lena, the youngest, was fascinated and considered the whole experience an adventure.  She had no understanding of how this one day and evening would affect the rest of her life.  Bill the eldest child went straight to the sleeping quarters with his personal computer where he intended to work on his latest computer gaming program.
     Lena crawled up on her grandfather’s lap and said, “Grandpa, it smells just like the seashore in here, isn’t it nice?”  Grandfather just smiled and said, “It filtration system makes it smell that way because it has to recycle the air over and over.  It changes scents regularly.  Tonight it will smell like lavender so we can relax and sleep. 
      “Yes, I know, and we have imitation windows, with artificial sun-rays coming through.  Momma said that you could even get a sunburn if you lay in front of the window too long.  It is much nice here than above ground; and, it is much quieter with no machinery noise.  Can we turn on the plasma screen?”
     “I’m sorry Lena, but we can’t turn it on yet.  Its use has been restricted for most of the evening.  They have not worked out the problems with the warning system yet and if we have the plasma screen on, it interferes with the warning system.  We wouldn’t know if we were in danger.”
     “But, Grandpa, why are spending the tonight and tomorrow in the underground quarters, it’s Christmas?”
     “Of course it is, and that is exactly why they chose tonight and tomorrow.  It is the only holiday left when everyone gets off work and can be home with their families.”
     “Except for Mom and Dad,” Lena commented.
    “Well, everyone except for a few who are needed to do some work on the surface while the rest of us is underground.  Tomorrow, if everything goes well, we will get to turn on the plasma screen and watch what they are doing up there.  They should have the warning system functioning by then.  If everything goes according to schedule, we will all be safe and sound in our new underground homes by New Years.  They have tunneled all the new streets, with their shops and theatres.  They are just sitting there, ready to open.  They have even built new schools and hydro-parks for the children.  When we get moved in down here, then we can get rid of all the old buildings on the surface and let the forest come back overhead.  But, they cannot get the people to do that overnight.  It takes propaganda.  That’s why they have brought out the new posters and clips that are being shown on the plasma screen.”
     “Grandpa, what do the posters mean “The Bears Have Their Lairs”?
     “It means to be smart and learn from nature.  The bear hibernates in caves through the winter until spring comes again.  We have a long winter ourselves to get through if we are to see the loveliness of another spring.  Our winter must be underground and it will take a long time for the earth to heal and foster another spring.  We must learn new ways if we are to survive.
    “For thousands of years men have grouped together in walled places they called cities.  In these places they could find safety long enough to be civilized.  Homes were buildings and roofs represented shelter.  We must learn that under ground must be our shelter now.  Many people have had trouble understanding the concept of living underground.
     People are so sentimental that it is no wonder that the government has had to resort to various propaganda techniques.  Little things like the words in the Christmas song, “…peace on earth” must be changed to “…peace in the universe”, so people will stop saying “on earth” as if it is meant "Everywhere".  The people have to be made Lair-minded if we are going to survive.  That is true even for the ones who are to live in the space colonies.”
     “That poster goes on to say, and Goodwill, what does will mean”?
      “It’s what makes you want to do things, or not to do things.”
      “But that’s genes, glands, and how you were brought up.”
      “No, “Will” is more than that.”
      “You mean Grandpa that it’s like astrology, or something?”
      “No, Lena, I wouldn’t bother about it.  The scientists don’t.  They stick to things they can find out about.  What they mean by “Goodwill” on the poster is an attitude that can hamper the government in their move underground.  People used to call it “faith in human nature” and anyone who still has that, needs educating.”
      Lena was tired of the topic and said, “If that is all there is to it, I think I’ll get one of the toys I brought and play with it for a while.  Grandpa, will you get my little model garage that you gave me for my birthday?”
      Grandfather moved Lena off of his lap and retrieved the toy garage from the box that Lena had brought with her.
     “It’s so nice with its little motor car.  Don’t you just love it?”
     “Yes, Lena, it is.  D’you know that I can remember when there were real motor cars and everyone would stop what they were doing to watch one as it went by?”
     “Did they have motor cars when you were young?”
     “Only a few were left, most had been abandoned because of the damage their exhausts were doing to the atmosphere and the shortage of an energy supply.  The economy was so bad by then that few people could afford the new solar powered cars, so, most people used horses or other animals for transportation.  Why, I even saw a cow once pulling an old motor car frame.”
     “What is a cow, Grandpa?  Is it something like a horse?”
     “Well, not really.  That was a long time ago and I don’t think there are many around anymore.  Just in a few special preserve areas to keep them from becoming extinct.  Let’s see, I think I have an old picture book here somewhere.  If you it doesn’t have a cow in it, it will have an animal that is something like a cow.”
     Grandfather got up and went to the bookcase.  It wasn’t long before he had found the book he was long for and returned to his chair. 
     Lena looked at the book closely.  “Grandpa, that’s not a picture book, that says, “Great Art Masterpieces.”  “A picture book is one that tells a story with its pictures, this one is just pictures of paintings and things.”
     Grandfather just raised one eyebrow, proceeded to open the book and turn the pages until he found the right one.  Then he showed the picture to Lena.  “Here’s one that tells a story.  Look, here is an animal that is something like a cow, but it is an ox.  This other animal is a donkey.  Do you know the story?”
     Lena looked at the picture studying it for a few minutes.  “It’s religious, isn’t it?  I am not supposed to have religion yet.  There is too much else I have to learn first.  Anyway, that’s what Dad says.”
      Grandfather thought for a moment, and then he said, “Well that may be; but, can you guess what’s going on in this picture?”
      “Let me look…is it a zoo?  Those animals are too big to be pets.” 
     “No, look a little closer.  There is an ox and a donkey.  That stuff on the floor is hay.”  It is used to feed animals, used as fuel, and sometimes a long time ago, humans used it for a bed.”
     “The building looks something like my garage, but what are the people in the fancy costumes doing there?”
     “Those aren’t fancy costumes, Lena.  That was the modern dress when this picture was painted in the fourteenth century.”
      “Is that when the story happened?”
      “No, it happened long before that.  Only, people have always liked to pretend, with this story, that they came into it too.  You see, it is about a time when we were all taken by surprise, and most of us were made to look very hard-hearted and stupid.  So, people like to act as if it were happening again, as if they knew and could go find the place.  Therefore, they did not paint these people in historical costumes.  That would make it harder to find the stable.”
     “That isn’t a stable, is it Grandpa?  Dad says that people aren’t allowed in stables because they’d find out too much.”
     “Not a hydro-stable, silly!  This was a place where they kept animals.  Still, if that is all that word means to you we will have to call it an animal garage, or you will miss the point.  At least you know what kind of place a garage is.  It is not a dignified place that would be considered suitable to live in.  It is not a suitable place for a baby to be born. You wouldn’t think much of a town where they let that happen.  And if you knew some people were sleeping in that garage, you’d want to run out and help them, wouldn’t you?”
    “Of course, Grandpa.  Tell the story and pretend that we come into it somewhere.  Only make it about a real garage, not some strange sort of place with animals.  There wouldn’t be any such places here anymore.”
     “Well, I don’t know if it would work out the same way.  For one thing, there’s the hay.  It is poor cheap stuff for a baby’s bed, but at least it is sweet and warm.  The story doesn’t say these people were miserable, the way they would be in a garage, with nothing soft to lie upon.  Still, they’d send out some blankets from the hotel, I suppose, nowadays.”
     “I know, we could pretend that I had left my coat there.  They could make a pillow of it.”
     “All right, I’ll remember that.”
     “Why were they there?  Were they terribly poor? Why couldn’t they stay at a hotel?”
     “Oh no, they weren’t poor.  The man was a respectable master craftsman.  He was a carpenter.  They couldn’t stay a hotel because they were all full. When they were turned away at the last hotel, the manager said that they could use the garage if they wanted to.”
     “What’s that, a carpenter?”
     “It’s a man who works with wood and makes beautiful things like the table your Grandmother has in the dining room.  There aren’t any carpenters anymore because the trees became too scarce and a law was made forbidding the use of wood.  But, a long time ago, there were huge forests full of trees so tall that they seemed to reach the sky and so thick that they blocked out the sunlight.
     Anyway, this man was a carpenter, he worked in another place, but his family came from this town, and so did his wife’s family.  That was why they had gone there, just for a few days.  It was something like a census.  The town was full of transients.  They tried to get a room in a hotel, but they were all full. It was a shame, because...well, you see, the woman was very young, and tired, and she was going to have a baby.”
     “Then they’d have gone to a hospital, wouldn’t they?  I…I had hoped they’d come and find my coat….”
     “Well, the story only says there was no room at the hotels.  However, you could easily account for the hospitals being full too.  There were many people in the city and something….some sort of accident may have happened.  There might have been a chemical accident in one of the factories.  Whatever the reason, the point is that they had come to this strange, poor, unsuitable sort of place.”
     “Why didn’t the man knock at a door?  Anybody would have taken them in, if they’d only known.”
      “Hm-m …this man was too used to people coming to him for help when things went wrong.  It wouldn’t have been his nature to knock on a stranger’s door and ask for help.  His wife must have felt the same way.  She wasn’t frightened that she was going to have her baby in a garage.  She wasn’t asking people to feel sorry for her.  She was being sorry for them.  She must have known how they would feel afterwards.  But, she knew it would do them good to feel that way—afterwards.  The down was already a famous birthplace and that was enough for her.
      A prediction had been made that this person would be born, but not many paid any attention to the prediction.  What would you do if you were this town’s top official and it had been predicted that a still greater person would be born in this town?  Wouldn’t you want the tourist to say, ‘What a noble, appropriate birthplace’!  What a credit to this town!  But, how would you go about it, Lena?”
      “I don’t know, Grandpa.  Just making sure that all the families had fine houses wouldn’t do it.  I could say that any mother that lives in the town was to be treated with special care.”
     “Think it over, do you think that would do it?”
     “All mothers that live in…. Oh, I see!  They didn’t think about the outsiders just passing through the town.  But, why didn’t they?  I guessed.”
      “Ah, that’s the curious thing about the town of Bedlam.”
     “Bedlam, I thought that was hospital…I think we read about it in my ancient history class.  Everyone was crazy and made lots of noise.  That can’t be it, Grandpa.”
       “You’re right, there was a hospital named after this town, and you’re thinking of the hospital.  However, in either case they badly needed help, because there was something wrong with the way they thought.  The people who lived in Bedlam didn’t really believe there was an Outside.  When it was very bad they were called idiots…that’s from a Greek word, and it means that nothing outside yourself is real.  Ordinary Bedlamites are people who say “everybody” when they mean “us”.  They’re always being taken by surprise, and they hate it. 
     A few years ago it happened when there was a milk shortage.  The doctors said that, “Every growing child must have at least eight ounces of milk a day.”  So everybody agreed.  Only they decided that it only applied to real children.  The others, the ones whose parents couldn’t afford to buy the milk, were only “offspring” (they said) and didn’t really exist.  We’d still be saying that if it hadn’t been for a very wise and compassionate man who saw the hypocrisy of the situation.  He began a protest against this hypocrisy, and then all these “outsiders” began to count.  It turned out that their children were real after all. But it was a shock.
      The leaders felt silly and turned around and voted for universal free milk.  They weren’t happy about it because the people in Bedlam like to feel cozy and they’ll always tell you that “outsiders” don’t count…don’t exist.  And when they have locked themselves in at night, they’re sure of it.
      This story is partly about one of those shocks.  Think how they felt when three different well-known international representatives came hurrying to this town, sent the Leader himself asking to see the new-born King.  Think how they must have felt to have had to take these exalted men past all the fine buildings and show them into a poor, bare garage.  “So this is how you received those people,” the visitors would say, “Well, leave it just as it is; don’t try to tidy it up and beautify it now.”  Why, even today you can make a rich man or a professor, or any very important person, feel stupid and small by showing him how the Bedlamites didn’t quite guess. How they received this child.
     Anyway, I think that man and his wife decided on the…the garage.  The hotel clerk would have seen that they were fairly comfortable.  But still they looked around to see if perhaps somebody had left a coat there.…”
      “And they found mine!  Oh, I’m glad they did.  They really needed it, didn’t they?  They weren’t just pretending?”
     “Yes, Lena, they really needed it, and they found it.  I don’t think they were upset or frightened at being in that place.  The carpenter would know how to make some sort of bed out of the…in between two motorcars, let’s say.  So then the night wore on, and the hotel lights went out, and all the town’s lights went out one by one, and everything was quiet….”
     Grandfather stopped long enough to check the time and was surprised to see that it was getting late.  They had not eaten supper yet, so, he said, “I’ll tell you the rest of the story later, we must eat supper now.  Run along now, get your brother, and get cleaned up, I will have all ready when you get back.  Your Grandmother will be here any minute and we’ll surprise her.”
      “Okay, Grandpa, but will those people be safe tonight?”
     “Yes, they will be just fine.  They have found shelter.”
      Lena left the room, and Grandfather went to the food center keyboard to select a special supper for their Christmas Eve dinner.  While he was trying to make decisions about the meal, he thought about how much had changed since he was a young child and he wasn’t sure that he liked all the changes. 
     Supper had been over for quite some time and Lena was lying in bed trying to go to sleep, but couldn’t.  She kept thinking about the story that her Grandfather was telling before they ate.  He had promised to finish, but everyone had gotten involved with something else and Lena had forgotten it until now. 
      She heard her Grandfather moving around in the living area.  She decided to get up and see if he would finish the story before she went to sleep.  When she entered the living area her Grandfather was sitting in his chair in front of the plasma screen and it was on.  He had selected a hologram of a snowy winter scene.  When she spoke she startled him because he wasn’t aware that anyone else was awake.
      “Grandpa, why do you have the plasma screen on?  I thought we couldn’t use it?”
     “Good gracious, Lena, what are you doing up?  I thought you would be sound asleep by now.  The plasma screen?  Oh…the message came after you went to your room that all the problems had been worked out and using the plasma screen wouldn’t interfere with the warning system anymore.  I thought I would just sit here and watch an old-fashioned snow scene a little while before I went to bed.  Isn’t it pretty lit up by the moonlight?  Come here, sit on my lap for a few minutes, and then you must go back to bed and get your rest.”
      Lena welcomed the chance to sit on her Grandfather’s lap, and was sure that she could get him to tell the rest of the story that he had started earlier.  She waited for a moment before she spoke.  It was nice to feel safe and warm.  She always felt that way when she sat on her Grandfather’s lap, but tonight it was especially so with the snow scene on the plasma screen. Finally, she decided that she had better ask if she was going to get to hear the rest of the story before she had to go to bed.
     “Grandpa, would you finish telling the story about those people who found my coat in the garage, please?”
     “Well, I suppose…If you promise to go to bed right after I finish the story.”
     “Oh Grandpa, I promise.  I’ve just got to hear what happened to them or I would never go to sleep.”
     “Hm-m, well…let’s see.  The next part of the story is about what happened to some people in the outskirts of the town.  You know what it used to be like outside of a small city?”
     “My ecology tutor says that there used to be lots of factories that released poison into the air, and that’s the reason we are having to move everyone and everything underground.  I saw pictures of some factories in a book that we have at home.  They looked like big dirty monsters belching smoke.  Is that the kind you are talking about?”
      “That’s exactly what I am talking about…but let’s say that these factories were woolen factories.  They were closed for the night, and they were being guarded by their night watchmen.
     Being a night watchman is lonesome work, you know.  They have too much time to think, and they have to watch the town lights going out one by one. They knew that if they were any type of “important persons’, they would be at home asleep.  I think that, finally, all the lights would be out, so that they had only the stars to look at.  You know you can’t feel the same way about a star as you can a lighted window.  You can’t feel sorry for a star, or wonder what’s keeping it up so late.  It just looks at you, and twinkles.
       So there they were, the night watchmen, sitting under the stars with nobody but themselves to feel sorry for…. But a few minutes later, they were running down the hillside leaving the factories unguarded, and they were thinking, “how lucky they were that they were awake!”   They had seen a very bright light in the sky and heard a magnificent sound of a voice….”
      “Oh, Grandpa, please don’t have an UFO sighting in this story, please.  I don’t like it.”
     “What makes you think it I was going to put such a thing in this story?”
     “What else would it be with a bright light and a voice in the sky?”
     “Nonsense, this was a “voice” speaking to them.  It wasn’t in the natural order of things, this voice.  You could tell that by what it said, and you could tell that it wasn’t any UFO either.  This story is not about perfectly normal thing, it is about…well, above natural.  Think of everything that you know about, or could ever find out about, and call that the “world”, your inside.  Well, it has an “outside, too.  And this voice came from “outside.”  It wasn’t a natural sort of thing…you could tell from what it said.”
     “What did it say, Grandpa?”
     “It said, “Don’t be frightened.”  And then it said that a baby had just been born, and that he would provide the way out of the horror and fear.  The voice told them they were to go and see for themselves.  Then there was a great sound of voices saying something you wouldn’t understand because you haven’t been taught the words.  But they went on to say “Peace on Earth, to men of Goodwill.”
     It made these poor watchmen feel that they had wills after all—even good wills.  It was the first time anyone had asked them to go and see for themselves, except in their own jobs.  They’d always been expected to read books, newspapers, or watch it on what was called a television screen, and then take what they were told, and trust the people that told them—because nobody cares much what night watchmen think.
     So they raced down the hill and into the town.  It was very quiet.  I expect that only the poorest, least important people were sleeping in the open that night.  They found the garage.  They opened the doors, stepping in very softly—and there was the baby, lying in its mother’s arms.”
     “Can we pretend that we came in too while the door was open?  Would she mind?  If we came in very softly?”
     “I think that she would want us to come.  It wouldn’t be like a King or a rich man showing himself off to the “best people”, and trying to impress them.  This was just a helpless little baby.”
     “Isn’t there anything that we could do?”
     “All a baby needs is his mother.  But the mother would need us—would need all of our goodwill.  She would want to know that we’d already realized that this baby was very precious.  We could tell her that without saying a word—just by the way we looked and acted--all the thousands of us coming in on tiptoe.”
     “Were there that many people who came to see the baby?”
     “Yes, the same way we came, thousands of others came.  All sorts of strange people:  there were rough laborers who wouldn’t have dared to walk into a fine house, even if it had been open, because they’d have felt shabby and out-of-place and there were timid, stupid people who flinched if you looked at them, and who knew weak they were.  They all found the courage to come in.  Nobody could feel particularly out of place in a garage, because it’s not meant to be a place for human beings to take shelter.  Nobody could feel shabby after he’d seen how they’d had to make do.  Nobody could feel weak and frightened while he was looking at an absolutely helpless newborn baby.  People could stay away out of pride, but not out of poor people’s pride.
     They kept pouring through that door all night; they’d found their way to this garage through time-- forward and backward.  Each of them saw a different looking place; to some it was the stable where they’d played as children, when there were stables; if they lived in the northern part of the world, they saw snow falling outside, and if they lived in the desert, they saw sand, palm trees and camels. 
     The night watchmen saw them as simple people from their own homes.  Others—the people of today and the coming centuries—could see the room only dimly, because they had never seen a real stable or real shepherd; so they saw everything second-hand through pictures, or through these little models they put up in the churches to help people find their way back.  Some of those invisible guests saw a cave; these will be the children who will be born underground.  You saw a garage because you understand about garages, and…and nobody’s ever told you this story so as to make it sound artistic and religious.
      Different people saw the mother and baby in their own way.  But whether they came from near by or by the long journey through the centuries, and whatever sort of shabby building it looked like, they all saw what they had come to see.  They saw the same baby, all of them.”
     “Grandpa, is that the end of the story?”  What happened to the baby?  Did he grow up?  Tell me the rest, please?”
     “Okay, it’s getting late, but, I’ll finish. We can all sleep late in the morning since it’s a holiday.  That baby lived long enough to do and say a lot of disturbing things.  All sorts of unimportant people like slaves, and women, began to act as if they were real people who counted; they even died like real people.  So that upset a whole economic system and by the time the leaders began smashing and burning to try to stop them, it was too late.  From the moment those people escaped from the stable, it was too late to lock the stable door.”
     “What were they escaping from, Grandpa?”
    “From the dictator of that country, he had heard what had happened and he was furious.”
     “Because his whole system depended on seeing to it that his people should be frightened by the very things that he could save them from.  He would get them scared to death of the things that he could save them from such as germs; and of course, he had the antiseptics to heal them.  He ran his country on the premise that he was the number one savior.  He couldn’t let the people see any danger from which he couldn’t save them.”
     “But how could he stop them from seeing certain dangers, that doesn’t make sense?”
     “Oh, but it does!  It is usually done by changing the words for things.  For instance, make the people say “healthy or unhealthy” instead of “good or bad”.  Misuse of language under the ruse of being “politically correct” or using “double speak” to make things sound as if they are something else are all ways to change the way people think and act.  That’s the surest way; but it was “modern man” who came up with these tactics to control people. 
     In the instance of the baby, the main thing was to find out whether the thing that had happened really was the sort of thing that would get out of hand, and whether or not it may threaten the leader’s control. 
    So the leader asked those three important people to find that town and tell him what they’d seen.  They were to take presents along—gifts that would stand for what they had to offer.  The first one, I think, was a famous and wise international corporate owner, and he brought stocks and bonds.
     The second man brought a kind of…well, incense.  Let’s say that he was in control of the majority of communication facilities and nothing in the world is sweeter to important people than being known by the masses.  His flagon of incense stood for what we call “recognition” nowadays.
     The third man brought a bitter liquid that had cost years of research.  It was the perfect germicide, and it stood for a most precious thing called health. 
      Now the story says that these were wise men, not simply clever men.  So it must be that these gifts stood for their whole lives’ work, for the best thing that each of them knew.  And they were wise men enough to know that any one of those things was precious enough to be the price of any ordinary man or woman.
     They found the place—they were meant to find it.  They heard the night watchmen’s story, and talked with the carpenter; and then they went in and saw the baby. 
      Now remember, their careers depended on standing in well with the leader, who was waiting impatiently for their report.
     What happened was that they laid down their gifts, but not at all as if they were a price; and came away quietly and never even left a message with the leader.  They simply went out of that country as fast as they could.”
     “Why did they do that?”
     “I don’t think you’ll know how they felt until you’re grown up; and only then if you’re unlucky enough to fall hopelessly in love with someone who just doesn’t happen to need a single thing that you can buy, or make, or do for him.  It’s a terrible desolate feeling.  Lovers can be desperately proud.  They can’t bear the thought that their gifts are taken only out of kindness.
    It was love that made them lay those gifts down as if they were worthless.  Because of course, they were wise enough to see ahead, to see the danger that the leader couldn’t save them from.  They must have seen a great deal in that moment.
     But they weren’t meant to go away heartbroken, and ashamed of their presents.  And they didn’t have; because they could see with their own eyes that there was a real need.  This baby wasn’t just pretending to be helpless.  He was in very real danger, and any sort of help at all….an old coat, a good wish, a promise never to hurt him…any gift at all was really and truly needed.  So, they came away with their heads high.”
     “What did the leader do when he heard?”
     “Oh, then he tried a sort of post-natal birth control scheme that he had thought up.  He decided to kill all the babies of a certain age.”
     “That’s horrible and mean!”
     “Well, actually he considered it as just an emergency measure.  It was sort of like warfare; he aimed at one objective and missed it, and smashed a great many little children.  It could have been worse; he had the children killed quickly and personally by experts.  It wasn’t like some leaders have done since, like dropping bombs that killed and maimed thousands at a time, or putting them in gas chambers using poison gas so the children would die slowly.   He was more humane than some of the later leaders as these things go.  But the principle was the same: Cover all the bases and don’t worry about the innocents that get caught in the net.  Unfortunately for him, his plan didn’t work.  The mother, father and the baby got clean away.”
      “But Grandpa, what happened to the baby after that?”
      “Why, it’s the entire reason for Christmas!”
    “Come on Grandpa, everybody knows that the real reason for Christmas is to celebrate the end of the old year and the beginning of the new.  That’s what we see on the plasma screen all the time.  People have been celebrating it since the beginning, when they worried about the days getting shorter.  The old Romans had it:  they called it—uh—Saturdalia.  Then the Early Christians just took it over ready made; only they made it religious.  Now we have it, and pretend that Santa Claus is coming.”
     “But why do we make so much fuss about Santa Claus?  Why do people give presents, to little children especially?”
     “I don’t think they give especially to children.  Momma’s been going half crazy trying to remember all the grown-up people who were likely to remember her.  Dad says that it is the only time of the year that some grown-ups can give gifts and it won’t be called bribery or corruption.  Besides don’t you pay attention to all the “X-mas” sales on the plasma screen?”
     “Hm-mm, I think that we’d better start over again.  Something happened as the result of this baby’s coming into the world.  Whatever it was, people found something worth being afraid of; and that stopped them from being afraid of anything else.  They found—no—they were shown—a really worthy enemy, not one that rich men can buy off, or clever men argue away.  They found an enemy who would take as much trouble over a slave as over a master: more, when the slave was harder to frighten.
     That leader had guessed the truth; they had found out the greatest danger, and it upset his system.  When he broadcast his own dangers after that, and would save them, people weren’t properly grateful, because they hadn’t been properly frightened.  They had seen the worst thing, and they had seen the way out.  The leader had begun to lose the control that he had once had over the people.  This really happened, it’s not just a story, it’s just as much a part of history as our move to live underground will be.”
     “What was the greatest danger, Grandpa?”
     “Being locked in without knowing you are.  Seeing a door and not knowing what it is for.  Being inside something and not dreaming there really is any outside.  These people had heard the one sound that you couldn’t mistake for some inside noise, such as the hammering of your own heart.
     It was the sound of human knuckles rapping urgently.  So they said to themselves, “That must come from the outside—if there is any”…So they leaned their ears against the walls of their world, and heard it more plainly.  After that it wasn’t hard to find the door and slide back the bolt.  But nothing would have been able to save them if they hadn’t been able to believe that the outside was really there.  And they couldn’t have believed that if it hadn’t sounded like a real person.”
     “A real person?  You mean not like “Mother Nature” or…”
     “No, not a figure of speech.  Someone who’d taken the trouble to…be born, learn to talk with words, and to find out for himself how well hidden the door was.  In other words, someone real enough to have gotten into real danger.  That is why we keep going back to this first birthday of that poor baby.
     You see, what these wise men and the rest of us saw was not our rescuer from the outside—the one who was going to help us out of our trap—but a man caught fast himself and as helpless as…as a newborn baby.  He’d become an insider.  He’d been walled in, like the rest of us; locked in.  However, he wouldn’t stop believing in the outside and wouldn’t stop getting others to believe it too. We knew what would happen in the end.  He was going to be killed for not being a proper insider.”
     “Yes.  He was going to be handed over to the local authorities of a big empire by the very insiders he’d been brought up with.  The people wanted more of him than he was deemed to give them.  They were just people like us.  That’s the thing to remember:  the things that killed this man were things that are very strong in all of us.  If it isn’t one thing it’s another.  It may even be misplaced hero worship.  We know that, and it makes us horribly ashamed.  It’s like how we feel when a person gets killed while he is trying to push a child to safety and we did nothing but stand and watch.  That’s how even the important people feel when they think about what happened to this man. It’s that sick felling of “I could have done it”.  I could have been the one to betray him, or one of the people who stood back and let him be killed.
     So now you see why we pretend…if you want to call it pretending…that we can find our way back to the beginning of the story.  It’s because we want to pretend it’s beginning over again, and the baby is still safe.  It’s so that we can be the outsiders, the strong ones, the sharp-eyed ones who can keep watch, and the rich ones who can spare a coat for a pillow.  We want it not to be too late.” 
     “But it is too late isn’t it?”
     “That’s the strangest thing about this whole story.  It’s something that nobody can begin to understand.”
    “You don’t mean that it happens over and over, do you?”
     “No, it happened just once, and forever.  It wasn’t the kind of thing that could even happen twice the same way.  That’s why the scientists have to say it’s “outside” their realm.  They can only deal with things that keep happening the same way.   But, the strange thing about the beginning of the story is that we can, sort of, be there when it happened.  Or at least people have always acted as if they could go and see for themselves…”
     “But why do this just at Christmas?  Can’t they do it anytime they like?”
     “Yes, they can.  But, for most people it’s much easier to go all together as a group, with their children running ahead to call the way, so nobody can get lost.  To do that, everybody has to agree on a day.  I think they chose the time just before the New Year because it’s like a trap around the littlest day.  When the dark closes in for the longest time and man has learned to fear the dark.  You are right, it was already a holiday.  Christmas didn’t just take over Saturdalia, because the people who believed in this man didn’t share any of the same practices that were common with the Romans.
     You know, we have no right to act superior to the Early Christians.  They were working for peace on earth even when they were forced to live down under it to survive.  Now we are forced to go underground again to survive.  We have learned nothing from these people or this man.  Had we learned anything, we would not need to move underground now.  We destroyed our world with greed, selfishness, and lack of caring.  Now leaders say we “want” to go down under so that the earth can heal herself.”
     “But the people don’t want to, yet, they are willing so that we can have a future on earth.”
     “That’s one of the things I was talking about.  Changing words around.  Actually, the people neither want to, nor, are they willing.  They have no choice.  But the government has used words to control people, to get them to do what has been determined best for them. . There’s quite a difference in wanting to do something and willing, because it means, “not minding.”  The leaders have learned to use language to convince the people to do what they might not do other wise.  The people don’t look to see if there are meanings outside of the words they are using.”
     “Why?  Do many words have outsides to them?”
     “Lots…are going to have Latin classes?”
    “I don’t think so.  Daddy says it’s of no use, it’s a dead language.”   
     “Well, that may be, but many of our words originated from Latin.  Man has translated the words and has given them different meanings.  For instance, here are some Latin words for you that the meanings were changed.  Fortis means “strong” and comfortare means…well, do you know what a comforter is?”
      “A padded quilt?”
     “I wish you would look it up in the dictionary and see what it used to mean.”
     “We have the New Dictionary on the computer, and it doesn’t say what words used to mean.  There wouldn’t be enough room; it has to put in all the different things that the same word means today.  It has several files, but there isn’t any Latin in it.  What’s the use of Latin when you’re talking about a feather quilt?”
      “W-well…what if you woke up and realized that you had been silly to think that “willing,” meant only “not to mind.”  As if you hadn’t any strength of …mind, as if your will didn’t matter.  You would feel very foolish even though you’d be past the worst danger of not noticing. But, you would still feel very bad and need comfort.  You’d feel…dispirited, and you’d need spirit.  So you would look around, and if you didn’t care too much about what words meant, you might reach for a padded quilt, or all sorts of harmful spirits.
     The people who first wrote down this story didn’t have as many words as we do—or at least not so many different meanings for each word.  And their leaders hadn’t yet invented the new way with words, because they still thought smashing might work.  But today’s leaders know better and if we aren’t careful we will lock ourselves in with the “greatest danger”.  Can you remember that?  Lena, will you remember that, whenever Christmas comes?”
     “What, Grandpa?”
     “That the people who first wrote down this story didn’t have so many different meanings for each word.  Their leaders hadn’t yet invented the new way with words.  Today’s leaders know better.  If we aren’t careful we will lock ourselves in with the “greatest danger”.  We can become puppets controlled by those who control the language.”
      “Yes, Grandpa.  I’ll not forget because I’ll always remember, when Christmas comes.”
Not the End, but The Beginning.  

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