It's Christmas Eve and there's some serious holiness going on. I've always been fascinated by the overtly religious—the Hari Krishnas at the airport, the Saturday morning doorbell ringers with their pamphlets, the guy who holds the note just one little beat longer in church. When I was growing up, I went with friends to their traditional black churches, and a college teammate of mine took me to a revival meeting in a tent one summer, but I've never come close to feeling the spirit the way some people do.
I've always figured that, at best, I'm just Catholic enough.
This point was hammered home when I read a book recently about the lives of, and the duel between, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. The latter was born out of wedlock in the West Indies, a start that left him with a chip on his shoulder for the rest of his life. But at least he had a mother. Burr's story is absolutely brutal.
Aaron Burr's father (Aaron Burr, Sr.) was a preacher man, as was his maternal grandfather, Rev. Jonathan Edwards. Both men were adherents of the philosophy that whatever happened was the will of God and, if something bad happened, it was the fault of those to whom it happened, either because they hadn't prayed enough or they had otherwise sinned. (That sounds a lot like karma but don't suggest that to hard-core Christians.)
Burr was born during the French and Indian War. When he was a one-year-old, the French overwhelmed the British at Fort Oswego in upstate New York. French General Montcalm assured the British that they would not be harmed when the French took over the fort. The French kept their word, but when the British surrendered their weapons, the Indians (who had not given their word) pretty much slaughtered everybody. (The duplicitous act was actually mentioned in "The Last of the Mohicans.")
After the massacre, Burr's mother, Esther, was distraught, but her father assured her that God only punishes those who deserve it. He preached this all-in approach to God and that whatever happened was part of a plan. Esther bought in, believing that horrible stuff was just God's wacky way of showing His love. Then the weird stuff started happening.
Aaron Burr, Sr. was involved with the opening of Princeton University. In the summer of 1757, he had to do a lot of traveling for his work. When he returned n October, he learned that his friend and fellow supporter of Princeton, New Jersey Gov. Jonathan Belcher, had died. Despite being exhausted, he set out to work on an appropriate funeral sermon. He had to travel to Newark to deliver the sermon and when he returned home, he was feverish and delirious. He collapsed into bed and died at the age of 42.
Then, the young Burr came down with a similar fever and was on Death's doorstep. This made the widow Burr ecstatic; she thought God loved her son so much that He wanted to take him to Heaven immediately. (Obviously, the young Burr survived.)
Jonathan Edwards took over as the head of Princeton, but he, too, soon became ill. An epidemic of smallpox was sweeping through the colonies, so Edwards had himself inoculated. He apparently got too big a dose and came down with the full-blown disease. (Interestingly, the concept of inoculation had been brought to America from Africa by a man who would become the property of Cotton Mather, he of the Salem Witch Trials fame. You just can't make this stuff up.)
As Edwards lay dying, both he and his daughter, Esther, praised God for visiting upon them such horrible things as a sign of His love. (See, I don't get that stuff. I've always been a "Why, God?" kind of guy. That keeps me from ever becoming anything more than just Catholic enough.)
Edwards died on March 22. Esther had herself successfully inoculated, but she suddenly came down with something other than smallpox. She lay in bed for two weeks with a high fever and a crippling headache, babbling incoherently. She died just 16 days after her father at the ridiculously young age of 27. This left young Aaron Burr and his young sister as orphans and shaped the way that he would lead his largely wayward life.
Through it all, even as that giant scythe was slicing through their family, the members praised God for visiting upon them such horrible atrocities. Over the decades, I have tried to understand that way of thinking, but I have never come within a country mile of it.
I can't believe that those people and I believe in the same God. The only punishment my God gives me is to make me go to church on Christmas and Easter with the slutty-dressing, cell phone-talking, food-eating, video game-playing, no-Catholic-being hillbillies who only show up to Mass on those two holy days to ruin it for everybody else. Well, as it turns out, I found a perfect Mass to go to with my family. It's quiet and peaceful and holy as all heck.
In the spirit of Christmas and being a Christian, I suppose I should share this information with you, but there's no damn way. You're going to have to try to have a Merry Christmas any way you can.