Ann Cannon: Finding room for reflection this Christmas season

First Published      Last Updated Jul 07 2015 08:20 pm

Our 4-year-old granddaughter likes the story of the Nativity.

A few years ago she was especially interested in the part where the Wise Men gave the Baby Jesus gold, frankincense and mermaids, and who can blame her? I always love it when people give me mermaids for my birthday.

This year, she's been interested in acting out the Nativity. She takes figures from the crèche — Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, the Wise Men — and does voices. I especially like it when she channels the innkeeper, who turns away the Holy Family because he doesn't have a room for them. Her voice gets big and loud like a circus ringmaster's when she says, "Welcome to Bethlehem, everybody! Welcome to Bethlehem! EXCEPT FOR YOU, MARY!"

Poor Mary.

This reminds me of the time many years ago when we visited the Chartres Cathedral in France with our own 4-year-old. We'd been living in Finland and decided to do a little traveling before heading back to the States. Our young son wasn't especially interested in old churches, but he was intrigued by the sculpture of the Nativity on the choir screen inside the cathedral. It's the only work of art on the subject I'm aware of where Mary is lying down after giving birth.

Ah, the French! Always so sensible!

I pointed to the baby in the manger. "Who's that?" I asked.

"Baby Jesus," our son answered.

I pointed to his mother. "And who's that?"


I pointed to the man standing at the foot of Mary's bed, tenderly draping a blanket over her. "Who's that?"

"The doctor."

I pointed out that, technically speaking, there isn't a doctor mentioned in the Gospels. No sir, Mary had that baby all by herself in a barn, a thought that horrified our young son.

Once again, poor Mary.

Anyway, back to my granddaughter. The part about Mary not being able to find a room has obviously made a huge impression on her. And her booming voice when she imitates the innkeeper — EVERYBODY IS WELCOME, EXCEPT FOR YOU, MARY — has started me thinking about some of the doors I've closed over the past few years.

Here's the thing. We all need boundaries — those psychic lines of demarcation that say I won't do this, either because I can't or I shouldn't. As Robert Frost observed in his poem "The Mending Wall," good fences do, indeed, make good neighbors.

Like many women, I have had trouble historically setting boundaries. It's hard to pull back and say no sometimes, especially when the individuals or institutions doing the asking are important to you. There have been times when I've said "yes" to too many things at once, only to do them all badly and at the expense of those nearest and dearest to me. "Oh, my family will understand," I would tell myself as I raced off for the thousandth time that day. "After all, they're my family."

It's taken me a long time to learn how to say no, especially to worthy endeavors. But I can. And I do. And I'm proud of this life skill I've acquired. Knowing what your limitations are is one of the good things about getting older.

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