Hope Restored

Last night, my kindergartner performed in her school’s holiday pageant. For weeks, she has been singing her heart out to “Santa Clause is Coming to Town” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” as well as – curiously – “Hickory Dickory Dock” (a favorite). She asked me to ask her music teacher for the song lyrics so she could practice, and practice she did – while doing perler bead art and taking baths, while perched in her booster seat and as a means of blessing at the dinner table.

Historically, Elizabeth takes on the Cindy Brady game show stare when on stage. She is a fan of neither crowds nor strangers. And, I suspect, like me, she has trouble learning anything auditorially. To this day, I cannot recall most song lyrics, lines from movies, or very much in the way of learning that I haven’t written down.
So, my hopes for this Christmas pageant were only that Elizabeth would enjoy it – and that there would be glimpses of her true joy on stage. In all her past performances, Elizabeth has only mouthed a word or two of the assigned songs, looking uncharacteristically glum in the process.

It turns out, though, all that practice paid off. She sang her heart out, smiled and giggled and, as one 2nd grade friend said after the show, “looked just like a firework.” Elizabeth still didn’t know ALL. the lines, but that was OK, because she was SO EXCITED about being there, and she knew that’s where she belonged.

Parents always tear up at things like this. And I think it actually has less to do with the sweetness of such an event (although it was very, very sweet), and more about the way it restores our hope in the future, our belief in all that is truly good and truly important.

Watching 100 five year olds celebrate the magic and light that composes their worlds makes it easier to believe in the magic and light in our own.

And the reason children give us so much hope is that they represent the very best of everything – our best effort, our greatest love, our undeniable wealth in the only things that matter.

As I looked at that glittering stage last night, so overflowing with excitement and the grandeur of childhood, I felt an upswell of joy that’s eluded me for some time. I recognized again that the reason we feel so passionately about the wonderful and terrible things happening in our nation and our world is that we desperately want to bottle up this kind of joy and freedom. Which is a little bit of a problem – because joy and freedom are best unbottled.

Our kids need to see US overflowing with hope no matter whatever crazy things, out of our own control, are bringing us down. (I am in no way suggesting this is easy; I am suggesting it is a goal worth reaching for.)

So the questions I’ve got running around in my head these days are:  What am I imprisoned by, and how can I walk towards freedom? How can I support a more joyful, care-filled existence for anyone who comes in contact with me today? If I can change just one person’s day for the better, why wouldn’t I?

It was only a Christmas pageant. But it was awesome – a ridiculous, adorable, celebratory thing that reminded me, again, that we can all be united, despite our differences, and that hope is still very much alive.


A Break from the Bad News



There’s a lot of bad news going around these days, so much, in fact, that it seems to be drowning out the usual, frantic hum of the holiday season. Today, I listened to experts on NPR’s “On Point” debate gun control in light of the Sandy Hook anniversary, closely followed by another news program during which I learned that 78% of Syrians do not have access to clean drinking water.

This is the kind of bad news that makes me feel so powerless I just want to curl up in a ball and look at old copies of House Beautiful and reruns of “Fixer Upper” all day. It’s the kind of news that makes me want to gather up my children, lock my doors, and bake cookies and paint paintings and lovingly read books with them until we’ve all had our fill of magic and simple joy. It’s the kind of news that makes me wish narratives, once established, can be erased. Clean slate! Let’s start over! But, of course, they can’t.

I don’t want to be someone who hides from the world’s realities. I have friends who don’t watch the news as a measure of self-protection, and that’s something I completely understand but can’t quite bring myself to do. But I do need a break from the bad news sometimes, and I think everyone else does, too.

So, I’m starting a little initiative of my own.

I’m going to take a little Christmas joy to social media and post, daily, something uplifting, something beautiful, something that reminds us that the majority of the world is made up of humans rather than monsters – artists, thinkers, dreamers, people, young and old who are courageous and wild and creative in the best and most extraordinary ways. I’m counting this as a Christmas gift I’m giving to myself, and I hope that others might join me.

Several years ago, my husband and I started this thing called “Beautiful Time,” in which we’d sit down for breakfast and share a thing of beauty with our little girls. They were tiny then, and while we all loved the idea, with the arrival of our third child and the overall chaos of our household, we couldn’t keep it in our routine. This initiative of mine may just bring it back, though. We all need a little beauty to warm us up from time to time.

A friend of mine unearthed this Wendell Berry poem the other day and posted it on Facebook, and I’m sharing it here again. May you find a place to absorb the peace of wild things today.

The Peace of Wild Things


When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.