Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Follow The Star to The Inner Child

As a child of the 1930's Great Depression many of my memories of Christmas are colored by the number of people who died in those days before antibiotics. Pneumonia, scarlet fever, whooping cough, measles, all took their toll and the toll included good friends with whom I went to school and played with. In my book, BITTER HERBS OF MEMORY, I tell of one of these friends, Cecil Holmes. Cecil and I, as children, used to have long conversations concerning things we knew nothing about but which helped to seal our friendship. Cecil was a whiz at Arithmetic and many a time he slipped me the answers to the problems we were working on. I would tell him how awful I felt being dumb at Arithmetic. During the winter of 1935-36, an especially hard winter weather wise and disease wise, Cecil and I talked about things we would like to get for Christmas and Cecil said he would like to have a puppy more than anything. One morning our teacher, Miss Goerlitz, had all of us bow our heads to say a prayer for Cecil's family because Cecil had died during the night of scarlet fever.

In the late summer and early fall a bright star appears in the heavens just ahead of the rising morning sun. That star is Alpha Canis Majoris, the Dog Star, Sirius. It is 23 times brighter than the sun. Sometimes today I look at Sirius in the night sky and I wonder if Cecil had his wish, if he himself rises in the heavens every morning and for no other reason than just for the joy of doing it, works a few Arithmetic problems along in his descent to the horizon just to show his brilliance as he goes soaring high above us 'dumb' earthbound watchers.

And the Star in the East that led to Bethlehem? Could that have been Cecil in his yet-to-be human life? How many of us are led every day to new victories, to new adventures, to new discoveries, because we follow a star that enriches and enobles? I like to think so. I look up into the night sky illuminated by something that thrills me even thought I can't define it. It is a part of the mystery and the miracle of life on earth.
And so, with Tiny Tim, and just maybe with Cecil, I say, "May God bless us everyone."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Come Out to Play, Inner Child

One morning in late summer, once upon a time, I was getting ready to walk down to my office just a few blocks away. In these daily walks I sometimes passed a house where a little boy could be seen outside mostly just killing time as far as I could tell. I usually spoke to him and now and then I could see a woman whom I assumed was the boy's mother. On this particular day as I was about to leave the house the doorbell rang. When I opened the door and then the outer storm door there stood this little boy. He was holding a bat, glove and ball. When I opened the outer door he said, "Can you come out and play?" It took me all of 5 seconds to answer, "Absolutely! Give me 1 minute."

It took me less time than that to put on jeans and a T-shirt and to go out. The boy and I, his name was Sam, crossed the street in front of my house, and went onto a vacant lot. For the good part of an hour I pitched the ball to him as he became adept at hitting. When I had worn myself out chasing balls hit over my head I told him I needed to get to work but that he could come again and I'd play with him. We did that several times before he started to school in the first grade.

One day when I walked past his house his mother was there. She said to me, "I want to thank you for playing with Sam, his father isn't here anymore and he doesn't have any brothers, he gets lonesome. He told me you had said he might very well play for the Cardinals some day. He was very excited."

"Coming out to play" doesn't have to mean hitting a ball or kicking one around. It can mean letting someone help us with our loneliness or getting rid of old prejudices. It can mean pitching out of our psyche troubling resentments and jealousies that thrive in all of us. It can mean letting out for useful purposes positive, helpful, healing attitudes and acts.

Tell you what! Why don't you get up now from wherever you're seated, during this second week of Advent. Go to the door, open it, and with your very best imagination and playfulness, envision another little boy, having come straight from his house in Nazareth standing there saying to you, "Can you come out and play?"

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Light of The Inner Child Shines

At different times in the past I've been able to attend one or more of the 8 days of Hanukkah in a Jewish synagogue. Hanukkah is celebrated by Jewish people usually coinciding with the early days of the Christian Advent Season.

Today on this 11th day of Advent Hanukkah begins at sundown. Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication or Feast of Lights, celebrates the rededication of the temple at Jerusalem in 165 BCE. The temple had been razed by Antiochus Epiphanes IV as a part of his effort to wipe out the Jewish Faith. During the 8 days of Hanukkah there is much in parallel with the celebration of Advent, or Christmas. It is a time for the exchange of gifts, the playing of games, and the singing of songs. One of the familiar songs sung especially by Jewish children is "O, Chanukah, O, Chanukah." Among the verses in this exuberant song are these, translated from Hebrew to English:

O, Chanukah, O, Chanukah, come light the Menorah,
Let's have a party, we'll all dance the Horah

Spin the whirling dreidels, all week long
Eating the sizzling latkes, sing a happy song.

Now light them tonight then, the candles all in a row,
We'll tell the wondrous story, of G_d in all His glory,
The wonders of long ago.

I hear this singing about dancing, having a party, spinning, happy songs, and I think, of all the people who have ever graced this earth the Jewish people have the least reason to sing and dance. Persecution has never been absent from their personal and national life. I remember Psalm 137 as the Jewish captives being led away into slavery cry out when commanded to sing by their captors, "How shall we sing the songs of the Lord in this strange land?" Indeed, how can any of us celebrate life in the midst of personal grief, defeat or uncertainty? I think the celebrants of Hanukkah know a thing or two and it's given to us in Psalm 18. "O God, thou dost light my lamp" (the Menorah), "thou dost lighten the darkness" (the end of the Holocaust, 1945), "and by my God I can leap over a wall" (badly burned Glen Cunningham breaking the 4 minute mile).

Hanukkah/Advent/Christmas is about light after darkness, breaking barriers, overcoming obstacles, letting this little light of mine shine, shine, shine!

Gotta do it! It's in us, waiting for just the right moment to come out and sing and dance and play.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Happy Holidays: Welcome Back, Inner Child

About the middle of November each year The Child in me becomes restless, wanting to come out and play. He emerges from the secret place where's he's been hiding in my innermost being for the past year. The Child waits to see if I'll take his hand and let him lead me. He reminds me it is time to think about Thanksgiving and then to Advent and on to Christmas further down the line. I welcome The Child with joy after so long an absence. We frolic around the house, play games like Cheat-the-Devil and Fox and Geese, if there's snow outside of course. He and I laugh and sing songs and make fools of ourselves and long before either of us is tired of the antics Christmas becomes fixed in my mind and I warn the Child not to go too far away because great and wonderful things are coming down the pike, just over the horizon.

It takes me a while to grow accustomed to this change of seasons but The Child takes the lead. Before I know it I'm thinking pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce and the first Sunday in Advent and after that the journey to refuge far from Herod. Such thoughts take me back each year to my own childhood, to years past. I remember the richness of memory, wonderful things happening, a few defeats, more victories, gains and losses, and those times then when something so magical, so mysterious even, brought tears to my eyes. There was birth and death, pain and healing from pain, so much joy it sometimes nearly smothered me. My need to love often overwhelms me, love for that child next door who is being shuffled around between separated parents, the Thanksgiving dinner for folks at the Salvation Army, the birds that sing so cheerfully in the cold.

My Inner Child is like Christopher Robin in disguise. I hear Christopher Robin say to Pooh, "Promise me you'll always remember, you're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."

The Inner Child that's hidden away in each of us is restless to break out from the long year's confinement. We can make room for him/her and while That Child waits for us to take him by the hand to go out to play we can read the opening lines on page 74 of WHIRLWINDS AND SMALL VOICES, www.wordplay.ca, Robbins/McConkey.

So, come now, Child, let's you and I go tearing down the path into the woods. Why? Because we're both children, that's why, and because that's what children do.