Christmas Card 2013

IMG_2593Those of you who know me well know that My Christmas Cards do not make it into the mail until the end of January… This has become somewhat of an annual tradition. They are a Labor of Love; and they take some time…
This Year, I am trying something different. After 35 Years of Cards printed on Red Card Stock in Black Ink with a Gold Stamp, I am posting My Christmas Card for you here.
For those who do not know me well, my Christmas Card has always been Words… The first 33 years, they were the Words of other people. And as begun Last Year, the Words are my own… Oh, and it’s Long! My Christmas Card is Long…
So, I invite you on this Late January/Early February Day, to curl up with a Mug of Hot Chocolate or Holiday Tea, sit back for the next twenty minutes or so, and enjoy this year’s Words… on your screen, on your tablet, or printed out on paper…
I offer them as My Gift to You…
Merry Christmas!
And Happy 2014…the Year of Amazing and Magical Things…

XXOO,
Arnold 🙂

IMG_2593

BUTTERWICK

by Arnold J. Mungioli

The two influential gentlemen examined the young inventor’s wares.
“And how much do you imagine will be our cost per item?” they asked the eager young man.
“Well,” the humble inventor proposed, “if I could see twenty dollars per item, that would be, I think, fair, and still allow you a substantial mark-up, and profit margin.”
“Hmmmmm,” the taller slimmer persnickety gentleman considered, as the two eyed one another in agreement. “We are prepared to order one hundred thousand of these. And we shall pay you $14.95 per item.”
The inventor’s face fell.
“But…” he did not have the words. And the way the stout goon-like one glared at him with such a bullying look, having been more a person of imagination than a businessman, he simply told the truth. “I have worked for over ten years on this. And the cost of production and delivery, as best I can figure it, is approximately fourteen dollars and ninety cents per item. These will easily sell in your stores for fifty dollars or more. But you are proposing that I only receive a nickel for every one sold. How can I do that, after all of my years of work. And it’s my idea…”
“What the item sells for here is not your affair,” the tall persnickety gentleman reprimanded. The stout gorilla grunted in agreement. “We are making a business deal with you. We are willing to purchase one -hundred thousand of these. That, my young friend, is a lot of nickels. Consider that. If you tried to sell these at the smaller independent shops, if they even stayed in business long enough, what would you sell? Three or Four? A dozen? We are offering you our imprimatur on your product. Your career will vault forward as a result of our taking a risk on you. And, I do remind you, my good fellow, that it is solely our risk. We are proposing to lay out one and a half million dollars on this venture for something completely unproven. When you consider it, I expect you will find our offer to be most substantial. We require your answer first thing in the morning.” “Again,” he added as he ushered the young inventor to the door, “do bear in mind that our offer is most generous.” And then, slowly, the phrase which concluded pretty much every meeting the gentlemen granted, “We are only protecting Mr. Butterwick’s fair share.”

Butterwick’s was the best known name in retail. And Mr. Butterwick was a most influential man in business and society. He was a paragon of success, on a par with J.P. Morgan or the Bergdorfs. Products carried at Butterwick’s exuded a special cachet and those who wished to maintain their high status in society, as well as those hoping to break in, only needed keep a steady flow of products from Butterwick’s fine purveyors in their home, at their office, and in what they wore.
Respect was accorded and obeisance was paid. By some, willingly; By other’s reluctantly. But no one could deny that the man had a keen eye.

The previous week, Butterwick had been pronounced the Most Successful Man of the Year by the society’s most noteworthy publication. It was widely acknowledged that he was, in fact, the Most Successful Man of Many Years, and it felt odd to be choosing any one particular year. Copies were distributed to all employees; some departments even had quizzes on the Man and his Life. All this was done in the expectation that people would feel proud to work for such a man who defines Success. It was not taken into account, nor had it entered the mind of anyone at the upper level of the corporate culture, that there might be more than one way to define Success.

“Mr. Butterwick,” Faun’s voice came through the intercom, “that young woman is here again.” Faun was sounding the slightest bit hurried — not her usual style at all, though it was after 5pm on Christmas Eve and she was due home to prepare dinner. Though by no means a wealthy woman, she enjoyed the status of working for Mr. Butterwick, himself, and the possessions that afforded her; and even moreso the illusion of a high society home which access to these possessions enabled her to create for herself. Since the cover story had been published, her direct access to the man himself placed her at the top of everyone’s holiday party list. Status, if in limited circles, can be a great job perk.

Butterwick would have had to admit being slightly baffled. His meetings were generally with Presidents and Sheiks, Powerful Men in government, business, and around the globe. Yet here was some downtrodden waif who had managed to get herself past security desks, lower and upper executive offices, and all the way to Faun’s desk to see him every day for five days in a row. It perplexed him but industriousness and ingenuity were qualities Butterwick admired. And so, shortly after sunset that one particular Christmas Eve, this most unusual encounter of these two most different people, whom one might describe as like as chalk and cheese, would take place.

“Send her in,” Butterwick buzzed back.

Faun was just about to contact security to have the girl removed again. She rarely heard anything back from Butterwick on the intercom, and was not used to his voice coming through the small speaker on her desk. She knew the command of his silences and that is what she was paid to act upon. The sound of his voice surprised her, but immediately overrode the silent internal command she was about to follow. With a detachment that made her superlative at her job — she had no feeling except Butterwick’s — she opened the door to the waiting area and invited the girl in. “Mr. Butterwick will see you now,” she told her, in her usual officious voice without a thought toward the guests that would be arriving at her home in less than an hour. Butterwick’s needs came first.

The girl entered the office. She was only a teenager, dressed in torn jeans and a loose fitting top. Butterwick would have had to confess that in this initial moment, he could not tell if those jeans were the genuinely tattered pants of poverty or the intentionally tattered designer kind he sold in his store for $399.95. He had been around long enough to know that the fashions of the wealthy imitate the poor, and he profited from this recognition. Still the Girl’s arrival disarmed him, as he was generally expert at sizing up people accurately within a moment of meeting. And he was generally right in his initial assessments. If he were a more dismissive fellow, he might have written off the girl as a pregnant teenager looking for a handout. But he found something about her that was not easy to ascertain. Something ephemeral. If he were a younger man, or perhaps an older man, he might have described this unkempt waif as “enchanting.”

“Thank You for seeing me, Mr. Butterwick,” the girl introduced herself. “My name is Maria. I work in your shipping & receiving department.”

“Hmmm? Is that right?” Butterwick asked, trying to avoid the powerful connection which the girl’s innocence so instantly commanded by keeping one eye on his work to anchor him. It was Christmas Eve, and the order of business was to insure Valentine’s merchandise would be in full array by morning.
“Always push the Consumer into what they don’t yet know they need to buy!” — one of the tenets of Butterwick’s.
“So, what can I do for you?” Butterwick placidly asked the girl, fighting his being so drawn into her as he was.

“I would like to invite you to my home this evening for Christmas Eve Dinner,” Maria declared.

Butterwick paused. “I beg your pardon?”
He was baffled, but unsure whether this had to do with the utter surprise of her invitation or the strange and subtle feeling that it resonated somewhere deep inside him with some innermost desire buried way beneath the access of articulation, or even thought. As a Successful Businessman, Butterwick was not driven by such emotional resonances — in fact, he was proficient at ignoring them. He was also unfailingly polite and respectful of everyone with whom he dealt.
“I regret that I must decline, but I am due at the Governor’s mansion in less than an hour.” he politely responded, quickly adding, “Is there anything else with which I might help you, young lady?”

“Please, Sir. Won’t you join us this Evening?”
“What is it you want from me, dear girl?”
“I only ask that you be our guest.”
“Why? Have you no friends of your own to be with this evening? We do not even know one another. Surely, the father of your child must be with you this evening.”
“Jose, my husband, yes. He will be with me. He is not the father, but he is with me.”

Butterwick bristled, smelling a potential extortion plot, “What’s that? What are you saying there?” He also had an inherent disdain for unwed pregnant women and those of such ilk, and would have held her in scorn as a detriment to society, except that everything about her seemed to Lovingly challenge everything about him.

“I am simply asking you to Christmas Eve dinner, “ Maria reiterated. “I am grateful for my job here. And I do a good job. I read your article. And I got a perfect score on my Department Quiz. Now, I would like to extend this invitation as a way of saying, ‘Thank You,’ for all that you’ve created here. And to offer to share some of what I have with you.”
Butterwick had enough control of his operations to know that anyone working in Shipping and Receiving had their hours carefully calibrated so as to fall below eligibility for Health Care Coverage. And this Girl would have to be having that baby on some kind of Medical Assistance Welfare program.
As if she could read his heart, Maria then added, “It’s true. I have no health insurance, working for you here, and I don’t make a lot of money. Yet I am content. I have a good Life.”
She spoke with no resentment, but radiated complete purity of heart; then continued, “This being the season of Kindness, it occurred to me that I would like to reach out to you, and offer what I have. I do not know what it is like to dine at the Governor’s mansion, but you maybe do not know the simple Joy of a homemade traditional Christmas Eve dinner.” Maria smiled. “I am a very good cook! So, it occurs to me that I might have something which you do not — perhaps a different kind of success in Life. And, as it is the season of giving, I would like to share what I have with those less fortunate.”
The girl picked up the weighted gold pen on Butterwick’s desk and a square of Butterwick’s 30 lb weave Signature Bordered Stationery from his Notepaper Holder.
“Here is the address.”
Then she added, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Butterwick!” leaving as she emanated a most ethereal smile and walked serenely to the door.

Butterwick was mystified. This girl radiated such innocence and purity. It was as if her inner light shone outward, and Butterwick was certain  that he had never met anyone like this.
But did she just refer to him as less fortunate than her? The Girl had not a trace of audacity. And she seemed neither oblivious nor as limited as her circumstances would imply. Perhaps she was insane…
Butterwick had never before had direct dealings with any lower level employees in the Shipping and Receiving Department, so he had no sense of whether or not this was typical. As he looked around his Office Suite at the Lavish Gift Baskets he’d received for the Holidays from various vendors and other companies with which he did business, even some competitors, he felt the familiar satisfaction of all he had achieved in Life. What could he possibly need with some sparing dinner at this pregnant teenager’s apartment? Yet he felt somehow discontent in his choice. He had a kind of homing instinct for the most powerful option in any situation — the one that would benefit him most, regardless of how things appeared. This was the first time he doubted it.

Butterwick completed the directives on Valentines merchandise, and left the office for the Governor’s Mansion. His car was waiting, a state-of-the-art Black Rolls Royce. His white-gloved driver was standing at attention and opened the door as Butterwick exited the building toward the car. He got in, sat down, picked up the porosus crocodile leather attache’ on his seat, and went over the numbers — projections for the upcoming end of year inventory, and quarterly profits.
Butterwick was a most satisfied man.

Within a half hour, the car pulled up at a somewhat ramshackle brick building on the North Side. Butterwick looked up from his papers and saw out the smoked glass window a street with which he was not familiar. His Driver opened the door, and Butterwick asked, “Where are we?”
“Your Dinner, Sir,” replied the Driver, as he gestured his arm toward the Building entrance, ushering him out of the car.

Butterwick would not have been able to explain much of anything about this particular Christmas Eve. He did not understand the visit from the pregnant teenage girl, or how she got to him. He understood even less how present she was in his mind since he first looked into her ethereal penetrative eyes — His eyes so worldly; hers so otherworldly — and heard her soft and gentle voice. And though he had kept his mind on his work as much as he was able, he found himself thinking of the girl — not any specifics, mind you, but rather just a general thought about her being present on this planet at the same time he was. How their lives had never connected before this evening. Here he was at the very top of an institution, declared the most successful man in the World; and there she was at the very bottom of the same institution, lowly and indigent. What did she have to be at ease about? Their Life Experiences so different, and yet they worked on a daily basis to achieve the same goals. He knew nothing about this pregnant teenager, and while he had no reason in the world to know where he was standing, he somehow grasped that this would have to be the address she wrote on the square of notepaper. Unthinking, he placed his hand in the pocket of his vicuna coat, and felt the paper. Another surprising moment, as he did not remember taking the paper with him, and he was certain that he had not put it into his coat pocket. He took it out, and read the address in his hand. It matched that of the stone edifice before him. One could easily appreciate the faded grandeur of the architecture, the winged cherub gargoyles over the entryway, and the dull and discolored writing in the stone frontispiece over the doorway: “The Bethlehem Apartments.”
Butterwick was truly divided on what to do next. He was adept at weighing probabilities, and had never before felt so evenly split about a choice. There wasn’t even a tenth of a percent leaning one way or the other, and although he was not a believer in fear, it may have been some modicum of fear that drove him to the decision to get back in the car and leave.
And he would have done that, too…if the car were there. But as he turned, he saw that the driver had done exactly what he did best — making the magnificent Rolls disappear as soon as Butterwick himself had emerged from it.

The Angelus Bells rang out from a nearby steeple.
Snow began to fall.
Butterwick stood lost in thought.
He was used to everything running perfectly. He paid people — well, at least the people who directly surrounded him — well enough that they were dependent upon the luxury afforded them, and they tended not to make mistakes. There were also enough of them cross checking one another that he pretty much never encountered an error at his level. He was tolerant of problems — they could be solved. He was intolerant of mistakes, and they didn’t happen. Therefore, if his life of many years were any indication, he was exactly where he was supposed to be at exactly the right moment in time, doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing. This knowledge and experience of how things worked in life — well, in his life — gave him great confidence in his day-to-day dealings. This particular Christmas Eve, standing at the entryway to this most unfamiliar building, was the first time he felt this confidence falter. It was the first time he would have to rely on his vulnerability to guide him. It was a new feeling.

Mellifluous soprano voices in perfect harmony, singing the Canadian Brass arrangement of “The Angel Choir and The Trumpeter”: “There in the Manger, a Child is born with a diadem. What do we find here, under the brilliant star, and under the angel choir, and the trumpeter…”
There was suddenly a gaggle of nuns all in white, caroling past.
Butterwick had an appreciation for Beauty and Art, and there was something picturesque about these nuns, all in white, caroling on Christmas Eve in the light snowfall, which he had not noticed until he heard the nuns singing.

He buzzed number 3, as the girl’s handwriting instructed.
The buzzer made a loud and unpleasant sound, like an unwelcome alarm buzzer too early in the morning when you just want to continue sleeping.
As he entered and started upstairs, he heard a voice from down below calling, “No. This way. Down here.” He redirected himself to the down staircase leading to a cold stone basement where a devout elderly woman of piety greeted him, “Buon Natale! Feliz Navidad! I am Santa Anna, Maria’s mother. We are so glad to have you, Mr. Butterstick!” She was dressed in the same white outfit as the nuns outside. “Don’t you want to be with your group?” Butterwick asked, feeling a bit disoriented.
“No. I want to be with you,” she responded joyfully.
She took his coat as he entered the Superintendent’s quarters. It escaped Butterwick’s notice that she selected so specifically the one nice wooden hanger they had in their closet, assuming mistakenly the value and respect such a man must place on a garment of such cost. The room was set alight by a Beautiful Christmas Tree, resplendent with old glass ornaments and twinkling white lights, and just a little too large for the very humble room. The table was set in such a festive manner, and the feel of the place was very warm indeed. Maria came from the kitchen holding a bowl of homemade linguini with clam sauce and the fragrant aroma of garlic left Butterwick a bit weak in the knees.
“We are so glad that you came. Merry Christmas! Please won’t you sit down?”
Butterwick saw instantly that there was something to be found here he had never experienced before. His success in business was in part due to his keen ability to maintain a beginner’s mindset in all things. What he was experiencing here could not be captured and sold. Yet it was the very thing that everything he sold purported to provide for people. He was selling merchandise at an excessive markup to give people the illusion of having the precise feelings this impoverished family had so effortlessly achieved, having purchased none of those things.

Though a sparse living space, the scent of the burning candles, the faint sound of Christmas Carols, and the glistening lights of the Tree made that small basement apartment feel more like Christmas than anywhere he had ever been!

“Please won’t you sit down, Mr. Butterstick?” Santa Anna repeated.
“Butterwick, mother,” Maria corrected her.
Butterwick sat at the table in one of the old wooden chairs. Santa Anna and Jose’ also took their places, Jose’ introducing himself and all of them making Butterwick feel most welcome. Maria served, then joined them at the table. They prayed and gave thanks. Though not a praying man, Butterwick did participate in the prayer of Gratitude, and it was from his most vulnerable heart.

They talked and ate and laughed and shared stories for hours. Butterwick, like so many successful businessmen, always kept himself slightly guarded; yet this Christmas Eve he shared himself with these festal strangers in a way he never had before. These Wonderful people had so much to say and such a Great Love of Life and appreciation for every moment of it. Butterwick could talk to anyone. But it was rare that he genuinely enjoyed being talked to…
He was fascinated to discover how certain handmade ornaments on the tree were connected to stories about their lives and relationships. The broken worn trinkets seemed to have more life and sparkle to them than the Precious Gems sold at his stores. He wondered if the ornaments he sold offered the same opportunities for stories and life experiences to his customers that this family had managed to achieve with theirs. He saw for the first time that the finest ornaments and keepsakes are not what make Christmas bright. Rather, it is the warmth and love of good people behaving kindly toward one another. Ornaments and trinkets only serve as the conduits — perhaps the talisman — for the acts of Love and Sharing and Grace that are at the core of a Holiday he had never before really understood.
Butterwick had all the goods. But for the first time in his adult life, he had met someone who had more.

When he saw Maria and her Mother washing the dishes by hand, he asked why they didn’t just put them in the dishwasher, then quickly noticed there was none in the kitchen. In a Bold and Benevolent gesture of Christmas Spirit, Butterwick declared that he would have one sent over first thing in the morning, and they would never have to wash a dish by hand again. He was surprised that his gesture was greeted with awkwardness, when Maria gently explained that for them, the handwashing of dinner dishes every evening was actually a calming and centering practice which she enjoyed, and which she hoped to pass on to her children. Then, to save face for Butterwick, they added that the basement plumbing would not be able to handle it anyway. Butterwick could feel his face being saved in this, and it was a feeling he neither enjoyed nor found even remotely familiar. What was happening here? He had not forgotten that the girl earlier referred to him as less fortunate than her. Could she have been correct in her assessment? Butterwick contemplated buying them the building in which they lived and worked as custodians. And he could too, and replace the plumbing, without even a negligible indent to his accounts. “That’d show ‘em!” Then he quickly thought, “Show ‘em what?” The part of his mind — or was it his heart… The part of himself that had been awakened tonight understood that for all his wealth and position, he had very little to show, and much to learn.

This simple Awakening was an event that would change Everything by Christmas Morning — Everything in Butterwick’s Life; and the World. All his employees would have Health Care provided for as part of their earnings. The very model of Business with a CEO making 25,000 times the salary of his average employee would become a thing of the past.
Everyone’s Life would be better, and no longer at the expense of anyone else’s…
Equality…Sharing…CommonWealth…

Until this one Christmas Eve, Butterwick had known nothing of the Creativity that is sparked from Doing Without. He had known nothing of the Joys of Giving Back, by taking care of an Elderly Parent. He had known nothing of the Spiritual Awakening that comes from Letting Go of the illusion that we can control everything in our Lives, and the Unlimited Power that comes with Acceptance. He had, until now, been shut out from the Soul’s Freedom of simply Letting Go and Embracing the Adventure of the Day…
Tonight, he learned the value of good people and good food and good times together as true wealth. He learned that in his Vulnerability, there lay his Greatest Strength And all the money in the world could not buy that…

“Jose’! Wake up! Good Morning, Darling! Jose’…” Maria’s voice called. It was morning, although there were no windows in their cold basement apartment, so it was only the clocks that provided confirmation of that. “It’s Christmas Eve today. You have your appointment with the Buyers at the Big Department Store downtown to pitch your invention. You want to shower and dress nicely. Santa Anna pressed your shirt for you and I laid out your suit. C’mon! It’s time to wake up!”

Jose’ rubbed his eyes and looked at his Beautiful Wife, almost nine months pregnant, and glowing. He smiled and reached his arms around her to a morning embrace. No the child wasn’t his, and many men would not have believed the story. But he loved her, and he accepted her and the Child as his own.

He had worked ten years on his invention, and bringing the prototype today to the top buyers at the top store in the city would determine a lot about their future.
But not everything.
Jose’ knew that whatever happened, he was a much richer man than many storeowners and successful businessmen could ever hope to be. He looked around at their Beautiful Home, Simple Christmas Tree, and Holiday Decorations with a renewed sense of appreciation.

“So many things,” he thought, “that we take for granted just because we have them. And you always think about those who have so much more than you, but you forget that maybe what you’ve already got is more than they could ever Hope to have!”

Jose’ packed up his invention and walked out of The Bethlehem Apartments feeling as confident and successful a man as he truly was… For who of us is not, at any given moment, exactly what we feel we are? Who among us does not choose each day to walk in the world exactly as we would have ourselves be, creating our future with every present step? Who of us is living a Life we did not create? Who of us is not already Saved? Who of us was not given the freedom to choose what we think about ourselves? Who of us cannot, now, in this present moment, choose a thought that is better than where our mind was going, to create for ourselves the Life that we wish to have? Who among us is not the richest of all people? Who among us is too poor to celebrate the Beauty and Wonder of the Miracle of Christmas every day? Who among us would not choose to carry that Miracle in our Hearts today? Who among us is not, in fact, a Miracle?

Yes, Jose’ awoke that morning with a renewed understanding of the Miracle of Life. And Later that evening, just after midnight, as he looked at his Beautiful Young Wife, Maria, holding the Miracle of their new baby, he would be reminded that those who do not believe in Miracles have forgotten that they are one.

We are all, every one of us, a Miracle… walking in the World; Loving; Making Choices; and Creating as an Expression of the Creator… Let Christmas remind us to have Courage; have Faith; Share what we have; and Love One Another. Let it remind us that there is no Beauty in the World quite like ourselves moving through space, and that there are Miracles every day, created from the thoughts we think and the words we speak… and let us be Good Stewards of this extraordinary SuperPower, assured for us Two Thousand Years ago in Bethlehem, or perhaps tonight on the North Side of some city where we live…

The Miracle is happening Now.

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1 Comment

  1. andreawd2014

     /  January 28, 2014

    Well, look at YOU! Living the change you talk about in beautiful grace. I am so proud of you. Fondly, Andrea

    Reply

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