I received a couple very interesting Christmas gifts just before the holiday. The first was more joyous, a letter from the GRE board in response to the note I'd placed that perhaps a particular question was culturally biased. They didn't agree with me, but I was honored that they took such a great deal of time to investigate the question and talk with some experts, and then even respond to me. And I at least got to find out that that particular question was answered correctly.
The second gift was less sanguine, coming on Friday from Irad Medical Imaging. Regular readers may recall the enjoyment of kidney stones I had previously. Well, without insurance, that left me with a $7,000 bill from two ER visits. Actually, 4 bills, from two hospitals, and 2 radiation labs. All four are contemplating my situation, and I am waiting for them to tell me if they can reduce the bill. A good thing to pray for, surely. One of the smaller bills was for Irad Medical Imaging. As soon as I got the bill I immediately called them to reiterate my poverty (as I'd mentioned it at the time of the service). They asked me to send over a mess of paperwork, which I did. A bit later I hadn't heard from them, so I contacted them, to make sure they had my correct address, and ask what the status was. They told me they were still reviewing my case.
On Friday evening I received a letter from Irad, after it was too late to call them, as they have gone home for the holidays, along with their voicemail. The letter stated that this was a final notice, that I hadn't responded to any previous requests, and if I didn't pay in full I would be referred to collections. Although quite angry at the allegations, there was nothing I could do about it till after Christmas. So in honesty, this has been hanging over me throughout the holiday, and I have been fighting to not let the worry rule me in this time.
Last Christmas found me wandering through Sana'a and Ta'izz in Yemen. This Christmas Eve and Christmas were more normal, spent with my brother Kent and my sister-in-law Trina. A small, quiet affair. Made my signature bread, had excellent Trina-prepared food, opened presents, went to sleep, had more pancakes by the same great cook, and opened more presents. Kent's cat got me a dangling cat toy; the dog got me pork slivers for dogs. (Not being as intelligent as us, pets tend to get things for others that they might enjoy themselves.) We actually had the most fun with the cat toy, watching the cat chase us around the house. And then after he grabbed the toy chasing the cat around the house. I got the cats a cat grass chia pet. I actually have been very excited to receive two books I've been dying to read- Obama's The Audacity of Hope, and Carter's Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Also got a toaster oven, so I can finally start making bread at home. Then we were off to the movies.
It seems like, after a great dearth over this past summer, the theatres are now flooded with Must-See movies. But for us, on this day, I must say the chief of them is The Nativity Story. It's hard to find something wrong with this movie. Mary is done by Keisha Castle-Hughes, one of the best young actresses I've seen, from the phenomenal Whale Rider. The original writing is top-notch. The directing isn't that bad either. They have really brought to life what is what like in 1st century Palestine, from the ululating zigharat at the birth of John to the cry for release from oppression of Roman taxes. This isn't Hollywood beautiful people or even white Britains in the middle of ancient Israel- these are average looking people, and very Semitic to boot. I'd imagine actually that much of the American audience would see the classic terrorist stereotype in Joseph's face, as in truth modern-day Arab Muslims are probably the closest in culture and physical appearance to the ancient Jews of any group on Earth. And there's even some extra action and humor thrown in.
But even more than the accurate culture description was really laying out what it was like for a teenager in this situation. This was a marriage true to the culture, not aligned for the comfort of Westerners in "falling in love", but the typical one of the Middle East, then and now, arranged, and difficult to accept for Mary. The movie also showed what it was like for her to be suddenly told that she was giving birth. Who's going to believe this? An angel told me? Please! She faced ostracism at the least; death was more likely. She was an unwed mother at a time when it was decidedly not popular. Although I am familiar with the story, for the first time I really saw the bravery in Mary, and what she faced, falling a vision that no one else had initially seen.
But best of all, I hadn't realized that the movie was also filmed in Morocco. Now here are two movies I've seen in a row filmed there. Here, as in Babel, I recognized Ait Benhaddou, near Oarzazet. They actually repeatedly return to this same small village, although it becomes a number of different places through the magic of Hollywood. I'm fairly sure they also visited Tubqaal as well. I saw sights that looked like the top of the mountain- even one where I could state exactly where it was, covered with scree. And I think I saw the only level stretch along that long hike up the mountain, only this time a donkey journey up from Jerusalem.
It is true, some elements were not quite kosher. The ending was a bit rushed. And they left out the little bit of the Christmas Story that no one likes to talk about- for it makes Matthew and Luke difficult to harmonize- namely the christening of Christ in Jerusalem. Honestly though, there was a reason a woman was considered impure for seven days after birth and not allowed to travel. You ever ridden a donkey? They're better than camels, I admit. But not much. There's none of the easy canter of a horse. Now imagine that you are a woman who's just given birth. No way Mary is getting up the next day for a journey to Egypt.
It's a special kind of movie that can show real life, real people, and at the same time tie me deeper into the numinous spiritual reality behind the story. Watching this, I understood better the glory of Christ, the shock and awe of His coming, and how those who bless the poor themselves find blessing.
And speaking of that, I finally was able to talk to Irad Medical this morning. They were very kind, apologizing for what had happened, and stating that the way their system works their application for charity runs concurrent with the movement towards collections. Therefore the letter sent out was automated, but accurately reflected the status of my bill. However, they are able to reduce my bill by half, to $150. I'll just need to send out a half payment this week or else it will go into collections. It turned out there was here a true Christmas gift after all.