In memory of Sundar Shadi, whose Bethlehem scene has brought fond memories to so many and created a feeling of community to the neighborhood. And in thanks to the community members who are keeping his contribution alive. All in the spirit of peace and goodwill, the spirit of Christmas.
Once There Was a War
Once upon a time, in the not-so-far future, there was a war. Lives were lost, families rent asunder, communities destroyed, but the leaders of each side remained intransigent and no end was in sight. Until one night...
It was Christmas Eve, in San Francisco. The Select Committee of the United Nations had met for a full week, day after day, with no resolution. The representatives decided to take a short break for the holidays, for although many of them did not celebrate Christmas, all needed a respite from the tense days of back and forth negotiations. And truth be told, no one really believed that peace was at hand; for although the negotiators respected each other and indeed had even formed friendships in the past week, their leaders showed no interest at all in negotiating, but rather sought the limelight only to trot out their respective ideologies.
They ended early that day, so that the clerks and other employees who lived locally could go home to their families. The others would retire to their hotel rooms or go wherever their feet took them. The Westerner, far from home and family, suddenly remembered the year he had spent as a boy on the East side of the bay.
Although he had been but a child, he clearly remembered Christmas that year. In particular, he recalled a nativity scene a man near his house had erected, complete with camels and wise men, shepherds, and the town of Bethlehem. To such a small child, it had seemed magical and yet real, as though the true Christmas had somehow been transported to this California hill so many years hence. The Westerner reflected bitterly on the current town of Bethlehem, now half in ruin. On impulse, he turned to the Indian who was just about to leave the room.
“Mr. Salim, do you have plans for tonight? For if not, I would like to invite you to take a drive with me to the other side of the bay. We could have an early supper and then drive around to look at the lights.
The other man was slow to respond, but then he said, “Yes, I should like that. But I must forgo the supper, for it is Ramadan and I must fast until sundown. “
Let us wait an hour then. By then it will be past sundown and you can say your prayers before we go.” And again on impulse, he turned to the Israeli standing nearby listening. “And Yair, would you like to come too?”
“Yes.” the other man answered promptly.
Just after sundown the three men drove across the bridge that sparkled with white lights. The Westerner led them to a North Indian cafe where they could have supper. The Indian was glad to see so many countrymen and he ordered the best dishes for the other two. The Israeli felt a bit uncomfortable at first, but he was a diplomat after all and knew how to adjust to any situation.
After supper, the Westerner said,
“Let us go look at the lights.” He didn’t tell the others of the one house he most wished to see, for he wasn’t sure he could find it after all these years, and it had occurred to him that the man in question would now be over 100 years old. So of course, the scene would no longer be there. Still, he wished to at least visit the place where it had been and see it in his memory.
They drove around looking at Christmas trees in the windows, the brightly colored lights, the Santas on housetops. The Israeli noted that some lights were blue and white and wondered if Jews here also decorated their houses. For it was Chanukah, after all, but in Israel, that was a minor holiday, not like the big splash the Americans put on for Christmas. Finally, the Westerner turned toward the hills. He drove up a steep street following his instincts and memory. He had just about decided that he had passed the house when the Indian said,
“Listen. Do you hear music?”
They put down their windows and could just barely make out the sounds of a carol floating in the dark night. As they drove on, the music became louder and a blue glow emanated from the hill. And then, as they came to the crest, the Westerner saw it. It was the scene from his youth, not where it had been, but on an adjacent hill. The town of white houses still climbed up the hill, overseen by a blanket of blue star lights and one large star. The wisemen rode their camels as before, pointing toward the star. The two shepherds stood watch over their flocks and the angel stood before them. Men were warming their hands by a fire and others were leading their donkeys along the path that lead toward the town.
The Westerner marvelled that the scene was just as magical and real as he remembered. Even the long string of cars that slowly inched their way by the scene, didn’t destroy the feeling. The Israeli seemed to feel the same, for he breathed, with a sigh of homesickness, “It is more like Bethlehem than Bethlehem herself. “
The Indian stood quietly; he was not quite sure what to think. What had this to do with him, a Muslim from India? Still, didn’t his religion recognize Jesus as a great prophet and weren’t these wise men from the East just as he?
The music stopped and the lights went out. The cars drove off and the three men stood in silence, still taking in the scene. A lone figure stood on the other end, by the shepherds.
“I heard that the man who created this was an immigrant from India,” the Westerner reflected. “He was not even a Christian. He was Muslim, I believe. And he created the scene for his wife, a Westerner, and to thank his adopted country. He didn’t ask for money; he never sought fame.”
“He was a Sikh,” a voice said from the darkness. The lone figure moved closer.
“A Sikh, who knew that religions have more in common than not. And he was a strong supporter of the United Nations. For he was a man of peace.”
The three men looked at each other. There was no need to speak. They turned back to the scene each gazing upon it, lost in his own thoughts, then they silently got back into the car and drove back to the brightly lit city. Meanwhile, the lone figure breathed a silent prayer for peace, someday, somewhere, and walked down the hill to her house in the dark.
The next day, the three men dined together, talking of family and travels, in implicit agreement to avoid talk of war and politics. Then the negotiations started again and they became diplomats once more, professional and politely aloof. But there was a change in the air; all felt it, not just the three. Each had called their leader and had a long talk. The negotiations began to move along more rapidly.
No, peace was not achieved that day, nor even that year. But a new feeling had begun to take hold and the leaders began to show less intransigence. Soon new leaders were voted in. And gradually a desire for peace began to spread throughout the warring nations. The tide had changed. And somewhere, up in a heaven of his own making, a man named Sundar Shadi smiled to himself.
An Epigram a Day:
To have less is to appreciate more,
To have more is to appreciate less.
Belief can neither be stolen nor bought,
It's there for the taking, believe it or not.
Expectations are the hope and bane of life.
If you want more, try giving more
To know is not to know,
And not to know is to be wise.
To wish for little is to be rewarded with much.
Generosity is the bread of life.
Basic Shoulds of Life
Empathy, sympathy, humanity,
A catechism in brief.
Too little is want,
Too much is gluttony,
A modicum of both
Is better than either!