One Christmas eve I was up unnaturally late after we'd all gone out to dinner:
my parents, my sister and I.
We'd come home to a warm living room, and it was Christmas eve.

I had taken off my fancy winter clothes and was standing on the heat register warming my shoe soles and my bare legs.
There was a commotion at the front door.
It opened.

Everyone surrounded me:
"Look who's here! look who's here!"

I looked. It was Santa Claus, whom I never, never wanted to meet.

Santa Claus was standing in the doorway, looking right at me.
My mother's voice called out,
"Look who's here!"

I ran upstairs.

Like everyone in his right mind, I feared Santa Claus, thinking he was God.
I knew right from wrong, but had barely tested the possibility of shaping my own behavior.
And then only from fear, not yet from love.

Santa Claus was standing in the doorway,
whom you never saw, but who nevertheless saw you.
He knew if you'd been bad or good...
He KNEW if you'd been bad or good, and I'd been bad.

My mother called and called, enthusiastically pleading.
My father encouraged me.
My sister howled.

I wouldn't come down. But I bent over the stairwell to see:
Santa Claus stood in the doorway, with night over his shoulder, letting in all the cold air and the sky.

Santa Claus stood in the doorway,
monstrous and bright,
Powerful, ringing a loud bell and repeating
"Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!"

I never came down. I don't know who ate the cookies.

For so many years now I've known that this Santa Claus was really a rigged up Miss White, who lived across the street.
But I confused the dramatis personae in my mind,
making Santa Claus, God, and Miss White an awesome, vulnerable Trinity.

This is really a story about Miss White.

Miss White was old. She lived alone in a big house across the street.
She liked having me around.
She plied me with cookies, taught me things about the world, and tried to interest me in fingerpainting. which she herself took great pleasure in.

She would set up easels in her kitchen, tack enormous silk finish papers to their frames and paint undulating undersea scenes,
horizontal smears of color sparked by occasional vertical streaks which were understood to be seas of kelp.

I liked her. She meant no harm on earth.

Half a year after her failed visit as Santa Claus I ran from her again.

That day, the day of the following summer, Miss White and I knelt in her yard while she showed me a magnifying glass.
It was a large, strong hand glass and she lifted my hand holding it very still, and focussed a dab of sunlight on my palm.
The glowing crescent wobbled, spread, and finally contracted to a point.

It burned.

I was burned.

I ripped my hand away and ran home crying.
Miss White called after me; sorry, explaining. But I did not look back.

Even now I wonder:
If I meet God, will he take and hold my bare hand in his, and focus his eye on my palm, and kindle that spot till it burns?

But no. It is I who misunderstood everything, and let everybody down.

Miss White, God, I'm sorry I ran from you. I'm still running:
running from that knowledge, that eye, that love from which there is no refuge.

For you meant only love, and love.
But I felt only fear, and pain

So once In Israel, love came to us incarnate,
stood in the doorway between two worlds,
and called.

(From "Teaching a Stone to Talk" by Annie Dillard).


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Last Updated in May, 2008