“The Under-Genius of Christmas”

From “Muttered Prayer in Thanks for the Under-Genius of Christmas,” by Brian Doyle

“… I saw the under-genius of it all; I saw beneath the tinsel and nog, the snarl of commerce and the ocean of misspent money; I saw the quiet pleasure of ritual, the actual no-kidding no-fooling urge to pause and think about other people and their joy, the anticipation of days spent laughing and shouldering in the kitchen, with no agenda and no press of duty. I saw the flash of peace and love under all the shrill selling and tinny theater; and I was thrilled and moved. … [A]nd I finished untangling the epic knot of lights, shivering yet again with happiness that we were given such a sweet terrible knot of a world to untangle, as best we can, with bumbling love. And so: amen.”


To paraphrase an old Jesuit professor at Georgetown, Brian Doyle is the author of a good number of books to keep sane by. Sadly, the number is not what I would wish: he died in the spring of 2017, not quite a year after our paths magically crossed one evening in a tiny town in southeast Alaska.

During his reading at the National Park visitors’ center that evening, he said that a reviewer once wrote that someone should put a bunch of periods in a box and ship them to him, the author. Today, I am grateful that we still have authors who care enough to ramble, who have not yet given in to the breathless conjunction-starting sentences of shrill selling, and who can pull it off with melody and poetry in the best Irish style, so that by the time you reach the end, you arrive grateful for the pause in the journey and not exhausted by all the staccato periods that have come before.

And so, Brian, wherever you are, I raise a glass of pinot noir in your general direction, a chara, and say go raibh mile maith agat — a thousand thanks, or, more poetically, may a thousand good things go your way. May you “travel in beauty,” as you once wished me.

And may the rest of us, still trying as best we can to untangle the epic knots of this world, pause for a moment amidst the tinny theater to see the under-genius of it all, as you did, and be thrilled and moved, and shiver with awe.