"Ryan. I am a Jewish boy. I don't know if I can be one of the Three Wise Men. Lightning might strike."
"Quiet, Seth. Or we'll miss the directions."
"Look, Ryan. Just because you have a crush on Rebecca does not mean I should be doing this."
"I don't have a crush on Rebecca. She's just a friend. And I'm helping her out. So -- PLEASE -- be QUIET."
Yep. There we were. Seth and I. At the First Berkeley Intercultural Holiday Festival. Where the Jewish kids enacted the Living Nativity Scene; the black kids lit the menorah, spun the dreidel, and cooked latkes; the Christian kids donned Kwanzaa attire; and the atheist kids read aloud from "The Collective Works Of Ted Cruz."
And -- yes -- a girl named Rebecca did have something to do with us being there. But, not because I had a crush on her. Okay. Maybe I had a little crush on her, but that really had nothing to do with it. Besides, she was dating one of the Oakland Raiders. And you just don't mess with that stuff, if you value your health.
This is the thing. We're both architecture majors -- Rebecca and I. And she's great -- really smart, creative, artsy, kind, compassionate, a free-thinker. And beautiful. Yes -- beautiful. And she came up with this idea of the Intercultural Holiday Festival. It's not really associated with the university, per se. But, a lot of the students wanted to participate. And Rebecca asked me if I would design the structure for the Nativity Scene. She wanted it to be a bit avant-garde. So, I designed a stable set into a hillside. And I fashioned it all out of biodegradable/organic/recyclable materials from the university's food service. There really wasn't straw available, of course. But you would be amazed at what you can do with cardboard boxes and a heavy-duty shredder.
Rebecca also asked if Sandy and Kirsten's new baby could play the infant Jesus. "Well, I guess so. Although, she is a girl," I told her.
"Like it matters, Atwood," Rebecca replied. "She's just a few months old. Nobody's gonna notice. And it's not like there's a whole lot of babies to choose from around here."
So, that's how Kirsten ended up showing my friend Sam how to hold a new baby. Sam was playing Joseph, and Rebecca had decided that it was about time to have a Nativity Scene in which Joseph holds the baby.
I know it all sounds a bit ridiculous, a bit disrespectful. As accepting as he is about all things Berkeley, even Sandy had his doubts. But, you know, it all came off beautifully. In spite of the initial chaos, the atmosphere ended up being quite peaceful. And everybody learned something -- about another culture, another faith, another way of looking at the world. And in viewing our differences, we also saw our similarities. We saw the things that bring us together. We realized that everybody has a heart-felt need to be heard, to be cared for, to be loved. We learned that respecting another's beliefs doesn't have to diminish our own -- whether in a family or in a country. Maybe if we respect another's sincere beliefs, that other will respect ours as well. And -- maybe -- that is a way to peace.
As I ate my latke and gazed upon Mary, who was bemusedly watching Joseph try to keep the swaddling clothes from slipping off of a fussy "Baby Jesus" -- sheltered as they were in a "cave" made of dozens upon dozens of industrial-sized egg containers, welded together by compost -- a real feeling of contentment filled me. Until -- UNTIL -- Seth's camel (courtesy of the San Francisco Zoo) decided it was time to gift us with some organic material of its own making.
So -- whistling "Jingle Bells" to myself -- I hustled off to get the shovel.