Mixing it up: Lessons from a Nativity creche and Roller Derby

17 Dec

Last weekend, we set out the Christmas decorations. We laid fresh cedar garlands on the mantel and brought budding paperwhites poised full of sweet peppery scent in from the cool garage. We hauled a lush fragrant Noble fir over the porch railing, then decked it with three generations of ornaments and a big copper star. But first, even before setting out the red wooden train, the cast iron reindeer, or the muslin snowman, we arranged the Nativity creche in its place on honor on the dining room hutch.

Years ago, my parents gave me a small ivory-colored terracotta Nativity set from Tijuana, Mexico for my first apartment. It’s distinctive because most all the figures are cross-eyed! When our children were young, they’d play with it, gentle as they could, but still there are little chips here and there, and a halo is permanently cocked to one side.  This year, we have two sets for we’ve just inherited my late mother-in-law’s Nativity as well. My husband was happy when I suggested we honor Irene by using her set instead this year.

As we unwrapped each piece from its crisp tissue blanket, we discovered elegant, elongated figures made of mixed wood. We also, however, discovered that the myrrh-bearing wise man, as well as Joseph and the Infant himself, was missing. Hmmmmm. We decided then to merge the two sets, with delightful results. Five wise men now approach the creche, the lambs and camels  intermingle, and tall carved firs that could be from Oregon reach high overhead. Mary is still dependably cross-eyed, but perhaps this time in wonder. With its crowded, incongruous style, it is the most beautiful and energetic Nativity ever.

Stepping back to assess the scene, I was reminded of a similar feeling waiting for the doors to open at a recent community event. It was the Emerald City Rollergirls‘ year end competition.  A long line snaked around the Lane County Events Center, buzzing and bustling and chillin’. The line included the most diverse crowd I have ever seen here in Oregon: biker dudes, women dressed from a Talbot’s catalog, young people on shy first dates, small silver haired bunches, costumed children emulating favorite skaters, preppies in collegiate gear, back-to-the-landers in hemp and dreadlocks . . . people of different shapes, sized and colors . . .  everyone!  For some unknown reason at the time, I felt particularly proud and grateful for my community.

Now I think I know why. Diversity generates a palpable energy and an alchemy that can, paradoxically, build a sense of connection. It sparks imagination and creates new story lines, like the five wise men or the kind-faced grandmother right in front of us at the roller derby, exhorting her zombie-attired granddaughter around the track. If diversity can bring such energy to a group of inanimate little statues, or a random assortment of strangers, it’s worth cultivating and seeking in our communities more often.