“Am I not alone,” asks the Creature in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, “miserably alone?”
The lines echo throughout the novel, with varying characters lamenting their solitary existence and the need for community, or, at the very least, a friend.
I taught the novel during the first half of the semester, but I’ve received a number of final papers arguing for the novel’s focus on conversation and community.
It’s made for interesting reading in these final days before Christmas.
Christmas is a time of celebration and coming together. Families gather and friends visit.
It’s a return home for many as students return home from college, and out-of-state members return for perhaps the first time since last Christmas.
It’s that sense of gathering that we often associate with the holidays.
One of my favorite recollections was at our childhood home, waking up early to open presents. Afterwards, my dad would head into the kitchen to make the Christmas lunchtime meal.
Out would come the “fancy” Christmas Styrofoam plates – always divided so that my different foods wouldn’t be touching.
And we would wait, watching from the kitchen or living room windows.
We’d wait for a long break in the traffic because then we knew Mama, PawPaw and Aunt “Toot” were just down the street, traveling along in their gold Cadillac.
It was a small family Christmas, but it was ours.
But as the words of Frankenstein’s Creature echoed in my students’ papers, I kept thinking of the Nativity scene and the journey that Mary and Joseph faced on their way to Bethlehem. In some ways, it was another form of gathering – a return to Bethlehem to adhere to Caesar’s decree for registration.
Yet, upon arrival in the city, they found the village to be bustling and crowded. There was no room in the inn, and, as we all know, Mary and Joseph settled in a stable, where Mary gave birth to Jesus. Amidst the humble backdrop of a stable, Mary placed her firstborn in a manger – the feeding trough for animals.
Too often we sentimentalize the scene. The Nativity was a solitary encounter – Mary and Joseph were alone amidst the overflowing village.
Mary gave birth in the rudest of surroundings. There was little concern for sanitation or hygiene – but what other choice did they have?
This was the miracle of creation. This is the gathering we celebrate.
And as we celebrate, we remember the solitary, isolated feeling that the new parents must have felt – to be away from their family and friends, to be away from their home.
Unlike Frankenstein’s Creature, however, they were not miserably alone.
Instead, they were filled with the presence of faith and of love. Mary’s humble “yes” assured her that her small family would never be alone for they were filled with the grace of God.
And that is the greatest gift of all.
That is what we celebrate as we gather together around our own family and friends this Christmas season.
For we are never alone as long as we hold firm to our faith and let grace, love and light guide us.
Dr. Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at email@example.com.