Wednesday, December 16, 2009

SETI

SETI
By Phee Paradise


I was going to take Christmas Eve off work to bake a pie for Mom’s dinner that night, but Mike scheduled a mandatory staff meeting. He did it, of course, just because he could. He likes to annoy his staff. I bought ice cream instead and tried not to be grumpy. Deandre was annoyed too, but she had a different theory about why he scheduled it. When he sent the e-mail, she slammed her mug down on her desk.

“Coward! He’s just afraid people will think he’s not tolerant if he lets Christians have a holiday. After all, we’re so privileged.”

I was already at my desk on the 24th, when she came into the reception area where our desks were, carrying a plate of frosted sugar cookies. Cinnamon candies dotted the green frosting so perfectly they would make Martha Stewart proud. She put them on her desk, looked around, and pulled a roll of silver garland out of her purse.

“Merry Christmas, Marje. Sure looks festive in here. Can you tell it’s Christmas Eve?”

She pointed at the four ghastly holiday posters taped to the back wall, then stuck her finger into her open mouth and made a gagging sound. Amy designed them to be inclusive. At our university, Christmas was just another festival of light, like Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Yule, and every office wanted a set of our posters. The Christmas one had a candle on it, as if that had anything to do with Jesus’ birth.

Deandre unrolled the garland and draped it around the edge of her desk, taping it in place.

“Want some?” She offered me the roll of garland. “Mike can schedule a mandatory meeting, but he can’t stop us from celebrating. I don’t care if Jews and Pagans have to work on their holidays, it stinks that we have to work today. Wish I had some lights.”

“No you don’t. You’d be contributing to Amy’s misconception that Christmas is a festival of light.”

“That’s right. Wish I had a nativity scene. Wouldn’t that make her mad?”

I took the garland and she helped me drape my desk too. A long piece hung off the back, so I cut it off. Deandre dragged a chair to the wall and stood on it.

“Hand me the extra garland and the tape. I’m going to frame the Christmas poster with it.”

I grinned and ripped off pieces of tape for her. When she was done, she turned and saw the random colors scooting across my computer screen.

“That’s a strange screen saver. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“It’s SETI. The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. You can let them use your PC to process radio waves that their telescope picks up from outer space.”

Deandre laughed. “You’re kidding. You’re looking for aliens? And you, a good Christian.”

“Hey, if there are aliens out there, God made them too. I just think it’s interesting.”

“Is it appropriate to use university property for personal interests?” Deandre gave me her best Amy frown.

“Amy put it on there. She has it at home and on her computer here.”

“Well, that’s appropriate. She’s an alien, herself.”

She looked at the clock and picked up her cookies. I grabbed a notebook and pen. On the way to the conference room, we picked up some napkins from the empty break room. A barely-touched fruitcake sat on the table next to a stack of paper plates.

“I see no one’s eating Carol’s cake,” Deandre laughed. “It was awful.”

When we went into the conference room, Deandre called out, “Merry Christmas,” and put the plate in the middle of the conference table. Most of the staff was already there, reading the newspaper and drinking coffee from travel mugs. Danny, who is Jewish, reached across Jeannette and grabbed two cookies.

“I love Christmas cookies,” he said.

Amy glared at the plate, and then at Deandre and me. “That’s pretty insensitive. Not everybody celebrates Christmas, you know.”

“Is that why no one’s eating my fruitcake?” Carol whined.

Deandre made a face, but Mike came in, and everyone turned to watch him settle into his chair at the head of the table. He put a folder down and beamed at us.

“It’s so nice to see you all this morning. Thank you for coming.”

“As if we had a choice,” Deandre whispered.

As usual, he didn’t have an agenda, so he asked if anyone had anything to discuss.

“We need to do some serious diversity training,” Amy jumped in, looking at Deandre and me.

“Some people on the staff are very insensitive to religious and ethnic differences.”

Danny reached across Jeannette again and grabbed two more cookies. Jeannette pushed the plate farther away, out of his reach. Amy frowned and turned back to Mike.

“We could ask one of the professors in the Social Justice program to teach the workshop.”

“Don’t you like fruitcake?” Carol asked Danny. “It’s a Christmas food too.”

He shook his head and bit a Christmas tree in half.

Amy opened her mouth, but Mike spoke first.

“That’s an interesting idea, Amy. I’ll think about it.”

I relaxed, knowing that, since it wasn’t his idea, we wouldn’t have to suffer through a social justice version of diversity training. I doodled on my notebook while Mike talked about his favorite subject – thinking outside the box. My page filled up with boxes and swirls before he was done. I was bored, but there wasn’t really anything else to do for the rest of the day. He made it clear that the main office had to stay open until five. Deandre and I were the lowly support staff who worked in the reception office so that meant we had to stay, even though there were no students around for us to help.

When he let us go, I decided to clean my desk. While I pulled out drawers and re-organized post-it notes and paper clips, Deandre stacked folders of student files on her desk and started pulling forms out of them. All afternoon, staff trickled by our desks on their way out. Amy glared at the garland when she went by, but didn’t say anything. Deandre glared back at her.

“It’s her fault we’re stuck here today, and she gets to leave early? She needs a workshop on classism.”

But as soon as Amy walked out the door, Deandre pulled a CD player from within her desk and popped in some Christmas carols. “…echo back their joyous strains, glooooria” she sang on her way to the filing cabinet behind me.

Suddenly she stopped singing and pointed at my computer. “Is that supposed to be happening?”
I looked up and gasped. The screensaver had disappeared and white words were popping up on a black screen, one letter at a time.

“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

Deandre hit the back of my head. “Very funny. You got me. I almost believed you about the aliens.”

But I wasn’t paying attention to her. I grabbed my Bible from the bottom drawer of my desk and flipped to the second chapter of Luke. It wasn’t the same version, but the words were close enough. I could have sung them, but instead, I shook my mouse and hit the escape key on my keyboard. Nothing happened. Something had taken over my computer.

It couldn’t be, could it? SETI. Radio waves. They hadn’t picked up an alien transmission. They had picked up angelic ones from two thousand years ago. I turned in my chair and looked at Deandre.

“Do you know what’s happening? The song the angels sang to the shepherds must have travelled out to the moon or something and bounced back and the SETI scope just picked it up.”

I looked back at the screen in amazement. “This proves the Christmas story.”

While I gawked at the screen, Deandre started laughing. “I still think it’s a joke, but if you’re right, you know who else is seeing this? Amy. Her precious computer is being insensitive.”

I stared at the screen again, trying to grasp what was happening. “Wait. It’s not funny. Look, she doesn’t believe in God but she loves computers. God’s using technology to tell her about Jesus.”

I slowly shook my head in awe at what He would do, even for someone who hated Him.

“Merry Christmas, Amy.”




Read the previous story, "Diana's Dinner Dilemma," by Seema Bagai.

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1 comment:

Seema said...

This is one of the most unique Christmas stories I've read. Great job.