Merry Christmas to All, And to all a Green Night!
I was raised as many people were raised to believe in Christmas. This holiday is of course celebrated throughout the world. As it is and as it is defined differently by people of all nations and all faiths, Christmas is special. As each of us have certain memories and certain understandings of this holiday forever etched in our brain, each of us has as well, dominant memories that stand out above all others.
Of all the memories I have, one particular memory or fear has always dominated my own sense of good and bad. At fifty five years of age, I must be honest and state that even after decades of intense psychotherapy, I have still not resolved this issue. As this issue is very much environmental in nature and wherever I go I am still confronted with this Christmas memory, I’m hoping that in writing this particular essay, I will, once and for all be able to confront the dark and dusty demons of my childhood past.
As is the case with all men who have surmised that these fears were placed upon their shoulders by their mothers, I am no exception. So not only is this essay an attempt to once and for all put these fears aside but to once and for all realize how deeply my mother loved me even though she layered years of fear onto my now middle aged heart. Even though I am quite certain that once she reads this essay she will again find a way to instill fear in me, her and I will probably find a way to resolve our inner angst. In other words, there is a good chance that this is “A Never Ending Environmental Story”
Picture in your mind a lump of coal in your Christmas stocking (yes I still need therapy). As you do so, picture as well why the threat of a lump of coal had a remarkable affect on your early childhood, pre Christmas moral and social not to mention economic behavior and long term psychological behavior.
For myself, this very threat had a remarkable capacity to temper my pre Christmas excitement and force me to do everything in my power to be good, exceptionally good. The very thought that nightmarish lumps of coal could very easily invade the more pleasant visions of sugar plums dancing in my head was enough to keep me on the straight and narrow. Even though as a child I had never even seen a lump of coal and as a child then and grown up now have yet to see a sugar plum, the plum was always a much more pleasant memory than the coal. As it was, I must honestly admit that while most of my life I have sought sugar plums lumps of coal are still much more readily available to me
I mean think about this.
When was the last time you were sitting at a railroad crossing waiting impatiently for a train full of sugar plums box cars to pass?
And, in fact if you were sitting at a railroad crossing for such an adventure to end, would you be doing so with anxiety or with glee?
Here we all are in 2009 awaiting Christmas, awaiting a long train to pass and not at all certain whether the train will be loaded with coal or sugar plums. But as we are waiting, it is still Christmas and regardless of our dreams, that lump of coal is reminding us that we still need to get out there and shovel the platforms of our nation’s train stations.
As I happen to love trains and become quite captivated when forced to stop and look at trains, I am even more captivated by train stations. As these architectural wonders are far more appealing to me than any other architectural wonder, I look at train stations only to wonder how many sugar plum dreams walked through the doors and sat on the benches of these architectural wonders over the history of our nation’s remarkable rail road past. As I do so and have in many ways come to terms with my lumpy coal dreams, I am as well still wondering about sugar plum freight trains and even more so, sugar plum train stations.
Being the environmental essayist I am, one might think that my childhood fears of receiving lumps of Christmas coal would have over time enabled me to conclude that coal is bad. As the lessons of good and bad as a child were personified by either coal or plums, again with the help of psychotherapy and a hopelessly evil mother, I’ve been able to conclude that coal is needed. As I am an environmental essayist and not an environmental scientist, I simply do not possess the knowledge such scientists who work in America’s coal industry possess. What I do have as an essayist, architectural designer and master carpenter is the tremendous capacity to design and build sugar plum train stations.
Shoveling snow in my pre Christmas childhood to earn extra money so that I could spend it on gifts that were to be given to my constantly threatening coal miner mother, I learned a few things. One of the things I learned is that if I was being good and being good meant shoveling snow, chances were that on Christmas morning I would awaken to a Christmas with sugar plums beneath it. As in my case those sugar plums were building blocks, tinker toys and erector sets, each year they were given to me by my evil coal miner mother.
Having said all of this and thinking that sugar plum train stations should today in 2009, probably be equipped with solar collectors and vertical axis wind turbines, I’m wondering if the Christmas stockings found upon our mantles and the sugar plums beneath our nation’s Christmas trees on Christmas morning should be filled with coal and natural gas and solar energy and wind energy and geothermal energy based erector sets that are quite magically connected together by the railroad tracks of our nation’s collective industrial will.
As I have as usual, blamed my mother for my tremendous fear of lumpy coal, I have not addressed the role my father played in those lumpy coal fears. As was the case way back in the 1950s, fathers never really took the time to entertain with their sons either the visions of coal or sugar plums. The reason they did not is that they were busy working with other men to build the industrial infrastructure of our nation. Working for Illinois Bell Telephone my father Al along with his brother and my uncle Bob who worked for IBEW 134 in Chicago were doing this work for the singular purpose of assuring their wives and children were free to dream of sugar plums. These men made up the labor force that not only built our nation but protected it. While they may have not taken the time to sit down with their sons to listen to childhood dreams, I am quite certain that even in their worst nightmares they would have never envisioned their sons, grandsons and great grandsons out of work here in 2009.
As the objectives of a nation are to simply be able to work, Christmas time is indeed the time to celebrate what has been accomplished. While we are certainly going through a difficult time in our nation today and in many ways it is quite difficult to see what it is we have accomplished, the reason we can’t see our accomplishment is that we remain fixated on sugar plum dreams rather than coal miner’s goals.
M. Patrick Dahlke