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Diary: Amy Scott Robinson

12 January 2024


Doldrum days

THIS time of year always reminds me of the legend of Baboushka, the woman who was too late to follow the wise men and ended up in Bethlehem after the Holy Family had already fled to Egypt.

In the picture-book version that I had as a child, Baboushka discovered who Jesus was and, rather sappily, “found him in her heart”; but the traditional ending is more poignant: she wanders the globe, handing out gifts to every child she comes across in case they are the one she’s looking for. She is doomed always to seek and never to find, like a cross between Father Christmas and an Ancient Greek tragedy.

The story avoids the Christian messaging of other Christmas folk tales, such as Papa Panov, who eventually recognises Jesus in all the poor people he has helped: it leaves Baboushka without redemption, having failed to be in the right place at the right time. As a myth for a seasonal gift-giver, it’s a bit dark, but, as a tale for the post-Epiphany days of stray pine needles, vague disappointment, and getting the last of the gift-wrap into the correct bin collection, it feels spot on.

Quantum of solitude

LONG ago, in those far-off days of summer, my son decided to become an ant farmer. After a huge amount of online research, he declared that all he had to do was capture a queen ant on the day that they fly, put it in a test tube, and watch it lay eggs. The resulting worker ants would create the farm.

Flying Ant Day duly arrived, and the first part of the plan went swimmingly (despite my secret hope that it would yield no ants, it appears that our patio is just one enormous nest). Four queens were captured, and all laid eggs. After that, nothing happened. No eggs hatched, but the queens were remarkably long-lasting. Son still has one left, which he checks on weekly, and feeds.

In between times, we are instructed not to open or even touch the box containing the queen, for fear of disturbing her; so, most of the time, she is a Schrödinger’s ant, neither alive nor dead, her work begun but never complete, waiting in the dark for an insect miracle. This, too, feels strangely like a parable for life in early January.

Lost deposit

THE 11-year-old has suddenly lost a baby tooth that had been hiding away at the back of his mouth somewhere, and it has been such a long time since such a thing has happened that I can’t remember the protocol. Even if I could, it probably needs updating for pre-teen tooth loss.

Does the tooth fairy still leave a single coin, or has she been hit by inflation? Perhaps, these days, she makes a direct transfer into a bank account (or, I suspect, on to a video-gaming platform).

Since being handed over, however, the tooth has not been mentioned again; so perhaps the 11-year-old has also forgotten the protocol. On this occasion, the fairy might hang on to her cash.

Delayed reaction

FOR the past two decades, I have been trying to persuade my husband to read with me A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken. A few weeks ago, he found it on a bookshelf while on retreat, and, at last, read it — without me. So, I’m re-reading it, and find that I still have most of it off by heart (I used to read it more or less monthly).

In one scene, Sheldon and his wife, Davy, are in the middle of an argument when there is a knock at the door. The couple freeze, lock eyes in unspoken agreement, and make not another sound until the visitor walks away. “Probably”, Vanuaken writes, “it was Jesus.”

The phrase has imprinted itself on my brain so that now, whenever I come away from a difficult encounter, or walk a little too quickly past the Big Issue seller, I find myself thinking, “Probably it was Jesus.” As a corrective, it would be more useful if only I could train myself to think of it before the encounter begins.

Mutual recognition

OUR home-made nativity scene remains on display until Candlemas: after all, the wise men have only just arrived, and need some time to settle in. We add figures gradually throughout the Advent and Christmas season: Mary and Joseph on Christmas Eve, Jesus only after midnight; then the shepherds the next morning.

This year, I’m thinking of making two more: I feel that Simeon and Anna deserve a place in the scene. They somehow recognised the Messiah without having seen any miracles, heard any parables, or witnessed a resurrection. How did they know? What did being led by the Spirit feel like for Simeon — had he been given a dream, a vision, a map of some sort, or did he simply (as one of my Advent home-group members put it) “know it with his knower”? Either way, Simeon finds himself in the right place at the right time to greet the infant Christ with joyful, complete recognition.

His story ties up this season of Epiphanies, as he ends his own long seeking with finding, and gives certainty to all our unknowns. He and Anna definitely belong with the rest. I just hope I will remember who they’re meant to be when I unpack them all again, next year.

Amy Scott Robinson is a writer, performance storyteller, and ventriloquist.

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