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At 4:30 A.M., I awoke with this dream:

I’ve been invited to the University of Dublin to lecture on my favorite poet. Many students crowd the conference room. I’m surprised by their interest as my grasp of the subject matter is thin. I don’t even mention the name of the poet. Some take notes.

This curious dream is the first after weeks of waking with pieces of them, resembling Campbell’s Alphabet Soup: none made sense. A new medication seems to be messing with my REM or fifth sleep cycle from which dream stories emerge. This one has a bit of story.

My psyche places me on the campus of the University of Dublin, keen on academic research and innovation since its 1592 foundation by Queen Elizabeth I. Such a venue places me at the cusp of new learning, the challenge of each twenty-four hours allotted me before my transition. Never have I been so enthusiastic about learning. The setting also recalls my Irish roots, steeped in hardship.

For some reason, my favorite poet suggests my inner poet, undeveloped and left alone, a task perceived as too daunting whenever I did review journals of poetry. Classes did not light my fire. Yet, she is there, despite not knowing her true name, and I’ve an appreciative audience.

That my presentation feels thin suggests my rush to assimilate fresh materials rather than to relish them, to allow them root-room to grow and become something else, then, to share with others.

All the more important to trust this process, already well underway. My Teacher knows what I really need. It’s about surrendering.

It had been one month, then, one week, now only four days before New Year’s Eve, with its frantic preparations for get-togethers or travel, with its review and planning for 2022. It feels like hurtling through time, with nothing substantial for support. Gossamer strands, multicolored like candy canes, tickle imaginations, tumble words, and befuddle days of the week. What ever happened to 2021?

Standing below a maple, its nakedness articulated against the blue sky, I’ve heard myself say, let’s snapshot this, tuck it away in memory. So beautiful! Like nothing I’ve seen before! Yet, however strong the impression, it’s lost within the recesses of my psyche, perhaps to be savored in a later dream.

I feel this way toward the old lilac shrub outside my study window. In what seems like a slit second, it has displayed its full cycle of budding, of splitting greenery, of heady blossoms morphing into tissue-paper browning, of killing winds stripping the bug-eaten leaves, leaving winter’s dormant presence. Each snapshot of the shrub’s cycle nudged Creator God in my depths; they are all there.

Such transformation speaks of my own that manifests in dreams, prayer, and other “O!” moments, even words that surface from my word processor, realm of my Inner Writer.

So, all of life is energized by the Sacred and through course corrections, both sweet and bitter, keeps everything cycling through its growth and diminishment and regrowth—everything in good order. 

Now on the down side of life, I still offer thanks for what is left, despite time’s curlicues.

Many know the story of Santa Claus, but few know his precedent: St. Nicholas (289–343), born of wealthy parents in Turkey who died in an epidemic. His uncle, bishop of Patara took him in, raised him, and under his influence, Nichols was later ordained a priest. A pious man, he secretly gave away his inheritance to the poor.  

Thereafter, Nicholas continued selling gifts offered him and helping the poor, sick, and suffering. Stories of his generosity abounded

Three nights in a row, Nicholas had tossed bags of gold into a poor farmer’s hovel that landed in shoes next to the fireplace where they were drying. Nicholas knew that the farmer would have to sell his three daughters into servitude or prostitution, there being no dowry.

Even after Nicholas was named Bishop of Myra, with the challenging responsibilities of his office, he continued his secret alms-giving. So graced he was that he also became a miracle worker. He restored the lives of small children their father had soaked in brine until suitable to sell to the starving during the plague.

Nicholas also knew imprisonment under the Emperor Diocletian until released by Constantine in 325, after which he attended the Council of Nicaea and dealt with the Arian heresy.

Legends continued growing in Europe around this self-less man. Many imitated his practice of secret giving, honoring him on the day of his death, December 6, 343; he was only confirmed in sainthood in 1446 by Pope Eugene IV.

With the Protestant Reformation’s outlawing the veneration of the saints, Nicholas’s memory was only retained in the Netherlands where he was called Sinterklaas. Too important to leave behind, seventeen-century Dutch emigrants introduced Sinterklaas to New Amsterdam.

From Sinterklaas, Santa Claus slowly emerged, thanks to Clement Clark Moore’s 1820 poem, “An Account of a Visit from Santa Claus,” otherwise known as “The Night Before Christmas.” Then in 1881, Cartoonist Thomas Nash dressed Santa in a fur-trimmed red suit.

Today, many families still honor St. Nicholas’s practice of filling empty shoes near fireplaces or outside bedroom doors with goodies on his Feast Day.

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