‘Live by the foma* that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.’
― Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Cat's Cradle
I know a round and jolly old man in a bright red suit and hat, with a snowy white pompom and a snowy white beard, living in a very snowy place. He has always been old, but he does not age; I assume he lives forever. His Mrs. does too, also jolly and in red; I assume she makes excellent tea.
Photo by Mike Arney on Unsplash
Once a year the old man embarks on a round-the-world trip in a reindeer-led, gift-laden sleigh. He stops by every home on the planet and squeezes down the chimney. He then leaves presents under sparkling trees for children who have been good all year. He drinks the hot cocoa they have left by the fireplace; their way of thanking him.
Yes I do know him. I know this man. You do too, as does, probably, the random person to your right, to your left, on the subway, in the street, in the adjacent cubicle at the office where you work, in every last corner of the world.
That no man lives forever and does not age is irrelevant here. As is the fact that no child is good all year and most houses do not have chimneys. That the old man’s belly would never fit through one anyway, nor would so many presents fit in his sleigh. That reindeer do not fly, and even if they did, that they could never lift such weight. That an overnight round-the-world trip is impossible, that he would freeze in the cold. That he could never drink all these cups of hot cocoa. We set them out anyway.
83% of children believe in Santa Claus. 80% of parents tell them to, even though they themselves, once upon a time, discovered or were told it was not true. The whole world believes in a jolly old man whom no one in the world has ever seen, because it makes Christmas mornings so much happier to wake up to.
On the other mornings of the year, and at later stages of our lives, we develop other beliefs that get us out of bed: Afterlife, or not. No carb diet, or not. GMOs cause cancer, GMOs cure cancer, and an apple a day. That que sera sera and what is meant to be will be. And the simplest, most heartwrenching one of all: that everything will be all right.
A Cat’s Cradle is a child's game in which there is no cat or cradle. A loop of string is put around and between the fingers; a figure is formed. One person holds it up to the other, and announces: Cat’s Cradle. The second looks and has a choice: see the cat and the cradle, or the string. In the first instance he can manipulate the figure to create a new one: Diamonds! Or he can walk away. The game ends and the string is just a piece of string.
Cat’s Cradle is one of the oldest games in humanity’s recorded history. Different versions of it appeared independently in indigenous cultures around the world: in East Asia, Australia, Africa, the Arctic, the Americas, the Pacific Islands. The names and figures vary, sometimes leather is used instead, or braided hair or fiber or bark, but the game itself is the same:
‘See the cat, see the cradle,’
now it is your turn. Give me something to see. Something to make me brave and kind and happy and healthy.
There is no cat. There is no cradle. There is no Santa Claus. There is no guarantee that tomorrow will be good to us. But if I choose to believe it then today will be a lovely day. I know a jolly man who brings me hope, and presents to little kids.