Here we are with our third Christmas short story: How the Captain Made Christmas by Thomas Nelson Page.
You know the drill, I’m going to share a bit about the author and then we’ll dive into discussing the story. So, if you don’t want to read any spoiler alerts, you’ve got another paragraph or two and then it’s on you for what you see :).
Thomas Nelson Page (April 23, 1853 – November 1, 1922) “was a lawyer and American writer. He also served as the U.S. ambassador to Italy under the administration of President Woodrow Wilson during World War I.”
Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a meal with him?! Oh the history he saw. In particular, I’d love to chat with him about being an ambassador during WWI. Here’s what I know:
“Under President Woodrow Wilson, Page was appointed as U.S. ambassador to Italy for six years between 1913 and 1919. Despite being untrained in Italian and having little experience in governmental affairs, Page was determined to do a good job. He eventually learned Italian, formed beneficial relationships with Italian government officials, and accurately reported on the Italian state during World War One. During his time as ambassador Page managed to maintain and improve American-Italian relations during The First World War, and provided a sympathetic ear to the Italian and Triple Entente cause in the U.S government. After a disagreement with President Wilson over the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, in which he argued for increased Italian benefits, Page resigned his post in 1919. His book entitled Italy and the World War (1920) is a memoir of his service there.”
Doesn’t that leave you wanting to know more about that season in his life? I have a feeling we could learn a bit from him and apply it to our line of work.
Okay, I’m going to dive into the story!
First I want to start by saying that when I got to the part where the porter, Nick, was introduced, I cringed. And I thought of you reading the story and wondering why Amy would pick something that had a reference to darker skinned people with such pejorative terms. Then we got to some of the marriage stuff and I thought, “game over.” There will be gnashing of teeth the world over.
But then I remembered that I’m not responsible for (a) common, though disgusting, ideas from over a century ago and (b) if we only read “safe” pieces, we’ll be passing milk toast around and congratulating ourselves on how interesting we are. Ugh. That doesn’t appeal to me either. I’ll be the one slipping out the back door with a fake emergency.
So many themes relate to us!
- Travel on trains
- Cranky passengers
- Accidents that slow down traveling
- Being with strangers, yet forming strong temporary bonds
- Opening up to strangers and telling them far more than we intended to
- Wondering what decision we should make about our futures, knowing that it will impact the trajectory of our lives.
- Finding magic in the common
What I love, love, love about this story is the title: How the Captain Made Christmas. Not how he found it. Not how he hoped it would be, but how he actively participated in bringing about good cheer.
He took what could have been a horrible annoyance to be born—traveling at a crowded time of year—and used his power for good. I wonder what little corner of my world I could have the same impact. Where can I enter into frustration, people being a bit snarly, and leave it altered for the good.
The men and women on that train will never forget that night. And it’s all because of the Captain. I think, one of my takeaways from this story is not that I have to “make something” of an encounter or an experience, but I do need to “be present and on the alert.” What opportunities do I have to not merely be on the train, but like the captain, be hosting the train car of life I’m on.
“The old Captain by this time owned the car. He was not only an official, he was a host, and he did the honors as if he were in his own house and we were his guests; all was done so quietly and unobtrusively, too.”
I wonder how the world would be different if more people held this view towards their work — and here I’m referring to all of us and the majority of whatever it is we give our time and talents to. Treating those who cross our paths as if they were honored guests and we are hosting them, quietly, unobtrusively.
As usual, I have more to say, but have gone on for a while so will meet you in the comments. What did you like about this story? What didn’t ring true or annoyed you? What do you hope to remember?
Reading plan for the month:
December 1: A Burglar’s Christmas by Willa Cather (our discussion is here)
December 8: A College Santa Cluase by Ralph Henry Barbour (our discussion is here)
December 15: How the Captain Made Christmas by Thomas Nelson Page
December 22: The Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke