04 October 2012

No Comprendo Santa Claus

My sister is seven years younger than me.  One of the many consequences of that fact is that I had to maintain the Santa story for her sake well past the day I knew better.  I didn't mind, exactly.  I mean, what's to complain about that extra little pile of goods under the tree? 

When we were in Germany, my youngest – three years old at the time – was informed by her Kindergarten that a) Santa Claus is not real, b) Saint Nicholas was real, but c) Saint Nicholas is dead.  Nothing quite like the German penchant for demystification!  All the same, we continued to keep the Santa routine alive for a few more years, the kids still seeming to enjoy setting out the cookies the night before and waking up to the traces of a middle-of-the-night visitor in the form of gifts and crumbs.

So there it is.  In the one case, the ruse was maintained with a lie.  In the other, the magic was maintained even with the truth known.

I think we often overestimate the effect that calling a spade a spade will have on people; we tend to anticipate the absolute worst.  I suppose one could say that this reflects prudence, discretion and concern, and that may well be right.  Sometimes truth is best digested with a sugar coating.

But in a case in which the facts are long- and well-known, reticence to call a spade a spade for an extended length of time strikes me as patronizing.  I'm given to understand that Japanese doctors would tell their patients they had an ulcer rather than deliver the news they had stomach cancer.  My guess is that word was soon out in the general population that "ulcers" were fatal all the same!  My ex-wife wanted to wait until school was done for the year to tell the kids we were getting divorced (= some three months away), because she didn't want their grades to suffer as a result of the bad news.  Turns out the kids found out about a week and a half (= some ten days later) after the divorce on their own and, since we hadn't said anything, had to keep a lid on it for the three months.  Their grades were fine.

I'm currently watching a scenario in which adults are keeping a kind of Santa story alive in the face of the known facts, dragging out with added procedures an outcome that is already known to all parties, in the hopes that – what? – the gifts will show up under the tree in the form of a different outcome? That somehow putting another layer of procedure on the matter will add just that much more sugar to get the pill down?  That with further committee deliberations the result will seem more authentic?

Stomach cancer patients can get on with treatment once the cancer is admitted.  My kids could have gotten on with processing the divorce earlier with an earlier admission of its reality.  All parties in the current matter can get moving on sooner rather than later once it is definitively – finally – settled.

I guess I hold that the truth is liberating, that it removes a logjam in the smooth flow of the universe, and that, even though it might require us to break out of our initial comfort zone, the comfort and release that awaits on the other side of its telling more than recompenses us for our efforts.

As far as Santa goes, I don't know.  I just don't understand.

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