As we get older, it seems the winters become more bitter. Winds blow harder, temperatures dip lower, and the sun makes fewer and fewer appearances. Tired bodies find new aches, and troubled minds find little respite from carols and candles. The holidays sometimes loom with no more luster than autumn’s fallen leaves.
In between the ads for electronics and wireless providers, the news creeps in with its customary gloom, and we can succumb to it. We despair at what the world has done to the collective “us” – the shooting of Eric Garner, Tariq Rice and Michael Brown, with neither apology nor accountability; a society that tortures its enemies, and in so doing, becomes what we are fighting; the butchery of school children in Pakistan. We watch it all and feel as if there is nothing we can do, nothing we can affect. Helplessness lies just under the veneer of the holidays, and imagination, wonder and joy might be as mythical as Cupid, Dasher and Rudolph. And so what inspired us as children becomes now obligation, or compulsion, or, even worse, ignored altogether. We numb ourselves with bread and circuses.
Age brings with it complications, and analysis, and stress, and the incredibly intricate weave of duty and expectation that can create a tightly spun web, the fibers of which seem unbreakable. We’re trapped by who we are and what we have grown into, or so it appears to the logical adult mind. Maturity and responsibility demand nothing less.
But while the mind creates its webs, the heart still leaps at the sound of a ringing bell, or the feel of a crisp breeze that carries a hint of snow, or the firm press of a loved one’s embrace. We remember the feel of a Christmas morning when we were 8. We hear our mother singing softly to herself in the kitchen, and lift our presents to see if we can guess what’s inside the wrapped boxes. We have no cares, no worries, nothing beyond the immediacy of the moment, which sings joy, and peace, and connection with those around us. We were children then, and can be once more.
There remains, for all its flaws and heartbreak, immense and immeasurable beauty in this life. Inspiration comes in shouts– the graceful courage of Malala Yousafzai, the smile of the Dalai Lama, the gentility of Pope Francis – and it comes in whispers – the soft warmth of a newborn’s breath, the touch of a parent whose love spans age and memory, the wag of a dog’s tail, a clear winter’s night when the sky explodes with stars.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote, “Be naive, innocent , noncynical, as if you had just landed on earth (as indeed you have, as indeed we all have), astonished by what you have fallen upon.”
This is our best hope, then. This is what can guide us back from the brink, guide us back to the purity of a life simply and well led. - To be children again, alive with wonder and aware that each day’s beauty is a gift too precious to be ignored.