Advent, first day,
on a morning walk in the frigid predawn silence,
across the empty park bare tree limbs pierce a sky
blazing white with the fires of heaven.
I read my pulse to keep time by their flames.
I strain to breach, with a finger, the dark expanse
to their impossible reaches, but my feet, my mind,
remain wedded to this ground, holding me
like a pledge to my birth, to this world.
How can I hold in my hand even one particle
of this distant, all-consuming bliss?
One fire, one brighter than the rest, red or orange,
perhaps a planet, loiters on the western bend of the world.
One red light I can hold on to with fixed gaze,
one warm body to hold me
until daylight draws near, all other lights gone
but this one fire of heaven. It remains, for a moment,
at the fragile far edge of night, a promise
that I am held in the dark and not alone.
Getting along in a crowded field
Fifty to a hundred geese are dotting the park. Among them are kids playing soccer, parents watching on, and dog walkers.
The geese visit sporadically, but we’ve seen a large and regular contingent of lately, and the park authorities say their population is increasing across the city—3,500 this year. Lots of park grass and a lack of natural predators, they say. Some park-goers complain the geese are encroaching on human territory, impeding traffic, and pooping where we walk.
I’m wondering if it’s goose-revenge. After all, we were the first to encroach on their land, once teeming with waterways. Our park was once a marsh before it was drained and the geese pushed out, along with the indigenous peoples, who had been getting along fine with the honkers. Ironically, Canadians have adopted the Canada goose as a symbol of our heritage, and we’ve proudly boasted images of geese on tourist literature to welcome in more dollars.
Across the park’s four or five acres, soccer players, dog walkers, and geese are creating space for each other and carrying on like happy campers. The geese have moseyed off, necks craned, heads turning left and right as if watching for traffic, toward one corner of the park near the mammoth willow tree. They pluck at the turf. The soccer goals have been moved slightly to give them room, and the numerous dogs are mostly on leash. I let our little pooch Bernie loose just to see what might happen. He takes off right into the flock, the geese fly up briefly, settle down again, while Bernie runs in circles barking as the geese lift again to let him pass. They seem to be baiting him.
Our neighborhood geese remind us to find ways to live together in a diverse social and environmental community, for the health and well-being of all. This is tough because it requires some patience and creative thinking rather than doing the simple thing—abolishing critters, bush, and trees wherever they get in our way. I watch how the geese are blending in with our human community. If they’ve managed to adapt, why can’t we?
It takes effort to live in harmony in a diverse community. Today I’m surprised how effortless it seems when everyone and everything gives a little. I smile. I’m even grateful for the goose poop, which taught Bernie not to eat it or else get sick. I implore disgruntled residents to be quiet for a moment and take delight in the gorgeous array of shared life. The words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the finest of English poets, come fresh to mind:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.
. . .
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod.
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell.
. . .
And for all this, nature is never spent
. . .
because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
(from “God’s Grandeur”)
Your kids can tell you a lot about who they are by the costumes they choose for Halloween. This year my twelve-year-old daughter has chosen to go as one of the great anti-heroes in American literature—Charlie Brown (tied with Sponge Bob).
Every Peanuts fan knows the Great Pumpkin story. Charlie Brown, pure of heart, forever trying his best to do the right thing but forever failing and never fitting in with his peers, attempts to create the simplest of Halloween costumes—a ghost made from a bed sheet with two holes cut out for his eyes. What could go wrong? But after several cuts, his ghost costume ends up a swiss cheese of mistakes. He gets ridiculed and gets rocks for treats.
Like many, I love anti-heroes. A broken, flawed hero attracts us because we see ourselves in the hero. We see our humanity with all its imperfections, and vicariously we want them to succeed beyond all expectations.
Charlie Brown constantly struggles to rise above his limitations and faults. Introspective and sincere, the spiritual leader among his friends, he suffers not only his failures but also the failure of his friends to understand him and to choose what is most true and lasting.
I smile with pride at my daughter’s choice. She diligently cuts out numerous holes in an old bed sheet to mimic Charlie Brown rather than donning a superhero costume as many of her peers will.
Her costume resembles Charlie Brown’s perfectly, right down to the number of holes. She puts it on for school. Her classmates wear theirs. She returns home that day disappointed nobody knew who she was supposed to be. Ach, this generation! She succumbs to the pressure and changes to a zombie.
She wanders out into the Halloween night, one with the other ghouls and witches and monsters as a zombie, still a loser, though a villain loser not a hero loser.
Her first instinct to go as Charlie Brown, I think, was the right choice. It’s a better expression of the self I see her becoming—a seeker after the most meaningful things in life, which usually move unseen beneath the surface, residing hidden behind flaws and failures.
Learning disabilities and disappointments have not overcome her. Her sincerity, thoughtfulness, and generosity, I believe, will continue to penetrate the dark nights of this and future Halloweens. I hope she’ll be among those who have discovered genuine greatness in the face of limitations. Jesus taught this: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. . . . Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt 5).
I’m convinced my 12-year-old will see God in the twists and turns and contingencies of her life, and because she sees God, she’ll be blessed with a wealth beyond normal understanding. That’s more than any father could ask for, and she’s on her way. That’s what makes me smile.