Merry Christmas, Everyone

The Catholic Church was as warm and inviting as ever. The people inside it were not.

Though the citizens of the suburban town had always been a tad guarded and standoffish towards anyone unfamiliar, they now seemed to harbor a downright animosity. And at Christmastime, too.

Father Vincent spoke on the birth of the Virgin Mary. Candles were lit, children’s choirs sang, the crucifix was hoisted, wine was poured and wafers distributed. Other than the giant projection screens to the left and right of the altar and organ, it wasn’t any different from when he’d been a kid.

He couldn’t tell if the barely concealed negative vibes floating through the place originated from fear or anger or both. Or maybe it was just him, projecting. He had been stressed lately, about things both concrete and nebulous.

The church itself was a paragon of lights and statues and cherry wood and solid cinder block, a fine well-built institution that welcomed anyone in. The people seemed just as rigid without any of the warmth. They stood and sat in their pews, recited the hymns and prayers joylessly. Although he hated using the term, the place was really, really WHITE. White as in formless and sterile, as tasteless and bland as a laptop’s cardboard packaging.

Mass ended. He went home and slept furtively.

When he awoke, presents were exchanged with his family. It was a good Christmas.

Afterward, while a fire crackled in the fireplace and the living room was a sea of wrapping paper, his son handed him a VR set. A heavy, black thing that fit over his eyes and ears.

“Just put it on,” he told him. “Don’t ask questions.”

He obeyed. He felt his son push a button on the set’s side.

Visions faded in all around him.

He was overcome.

“What’s this called?” he asked.

“Overview,” said his son. “Isn’t it insane?”

The view was of the earth itself. Floating in the void. He floated himself, like a satellite, looking down on it. Witnessing the Christmas Earthrise, bathed in starshine.

“It’s alive,” he said. He could feel his eyes moistening. The effect was immediate. No matter where he turned his head, there was only this bejeweled orb.

“Yeah,” said his son. “That’s in real time. You’re looking at yourself right now. This is what the astronauts saw. They call it the Overview Effect. Real simple program. Comes with the headgear.”

The man looked down on earth, earth looking down on itself. He thought of all the people in the church and their vague distrust of each other, their unwillingness to hold hands outside their family during the Our Father, their muted presentations of “Peace be with you” during the offering. They, and everything else that had ever existed, did so on this living sphere suspended before him. Unknowingly all the same.

“This is going to change the world,” said his son. “Doesn’t it just change your perspective on everything? Like, right away?”

“It does.”

His son went to take the headset off him but he grabbed his son’s hand.

“Just a sec.”

He watched a bit longer. The wisps of cloud, the soft light of existence. The gentle turn. The planet’s breath. The ocean’s blue. The lush green and ruddy brown and tawny tan of the land. A swirled marble clothed in eternity.

It wasn’t frightening at all. It was beautiful. It was powerful. It was real.

“Merry Christmas, everyone,” he said, watching.