Two thousand years ago in a world as beleaguered as ours is today, a little brown-skinned baby was born in the Middle East to poor, working class parents. He came to Earth with a job: to teach human beings how to love each other. His message, the one he lived and died for, was so simple: Love everybody, especially the ones you find hardest to love.
Love them like you love yourself. Like you love your grandchildren, your mother, your puppy.
Love them with your hands and feet, with forgiveness, service, sacrifice, a kind word, with your casserole dishes and your snow shovels, with itchy masks and Walmart gift cards.
His name was Jesus, and it’s the day we celebrate his birthday.
While a huge snowstorm dumped tons of snow on the New England coast north of us yesterday, we were out hiking in a forest that is at the peak of autumn color. Coastal South Carolina might be the only part of the U.S. there is that gets to experience the beauty of fall and Christmas at the same time.
What a treat!
We picked some berries and boughs and brought armloads of the fall color and pine scent home to deck the halls ...
and the porch ...
and the fireplace.
There are so many of the beloved annual Christmas traditions that are out of our reach this year because of Covid. We can’t dwell on those, though. Better to find delight in the ones we still can!
The ability to read has probably brought me more hours of delight than any other single thing in my life. I remember opening my first “reading book” on my little desk in first grade and galloping through every word like a runaway horse. The system of combining letters into words and then ideas made complete sense to me and reading came as natural as breathing. I have no idea how it happened; I just “got it”.
The series I learned to read from were the Alice and Jerry Books, written by Mabel O’Donnell.
The books were yellowed and well-worn by the time they reached my class of first graders. It didn’t matter. Brother and sister Alice and Jerry and their small dog Jip had adventures that lured me far from the grubby dog-eared pages, the classroom smells of paste and wet mittens, the droning voice of Mrs Bastian, into worlds I could now access without asking someone to read to me. I was in control and I was unstoppable. I was chastised often for that great sin ... Reading Ahead!
We were divided into reading groups, six of us at a time who came to the front of the classroom and sat at a round table to read aloud together like a Greek chorus. I would control myself for a while, my voice in synch with all the others, but then my eyes couldn’t resist flying ahead to find out What Happened. And there I would be, no longer with the choir but forging ahead on my own. Only to be scolded once again for Reading Ahead.
My reading group was called the Bluebirds. I don’t remember the other group names but they all involved a color. And everyone knew the Bluebirds were the best readers. The other three groups were on a scale that sank down to the sad little bunch of readers having serious difficulty, the Brownsomethings.
I loved the simple stories that grew more complex as we became more adept. I loved the characters, the funny little dog Jip, the things they did just like I did, like jump in the leaves and roller skate. I loved the illustrations, soft watercolors of children and situations completely familiar to me.
Looking back, I realize there were children in my class whose home life was nothing like Alice and Jerry’s, whose parents didn’t take care of them like mine did, whose clothing was inadequate, who smelled bad, who had little in common with Alice and Jerry and the kind adults in the books. I wonder if those children were the ones who made up the Brownsomething reading group.
Alice Fairchild was my first school friend. We shared a double desk that had two cubbies between the seats. I thought Alice was the luckiest girl in the world because she had the same name as the girl in our Alice and Jerry Readers. Alice’s cubby was on top, mine on the bottom. On special occasions (I think this might have been the day before Thanksgiving) we were each given a treat, a Dixie Cup — a little paper cup of vanilla ice cream with a tiny wooden spoon that, when you licked the ice cream off of it, made the ice cream taste like a Christmas tree.
Sweet Alice, unbeknownst to anyone but herself for several hours, decided to save her Dixie Cup and bring it home to a sibling. Unfortunately she squirreled it away in her cubby above mine and when I reached into my cubby for something later, all the ice cream had dribbled down and made a sticky mess of my crayons and Big Chief tablet, my pencils and my reading book. The teacher was very upset but Alice and I remained fast friends until third grade when she moved away.
Reading has allowed me to satisfy my curiosity and learn new things, to travel to other places and other times I could never go. Reading has made me laugh, cry, empathize, think, rage, commiserate. I almost lost my sight twice, two detached retinas repaired with emergency surgeries. I’m grateful every day I still have the opportunity to read.
I had something else planned for my blog today, but then this appeared on National Public Radio as we were eating lunch:
“U.K. Begins Nationwide Coronavirus Immunization, Largest In Nation's History
Margaret Keenan, a grandmother of four, made history Tuesday after getting a potentially lifesaving birthday present.
With one shot — or "jab" as Britons might say — Keenan, who turns 91 next week, officially launched the United Kingdom's nationwide coronavirus immunization campaign — the largest such effort in its history.
"I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against COVID-19," said Keenan, who received the shot at 6:30 a.m. U.K. time. ‘It's the best early birthday present I could wish for because it means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the new year after being on my own for most of the year.’ “
Even though the overnight news here was that the vaccine may be delayed and in short supply in this country until June or July, I am overjoyed and filled with hope to see a mother and grandmother somewhere who is on her way to seeing her family, friends, and living a normal life again.
You are probably wondering HOW IN THE WORLD a paper bag could be today’s delight.
It is though, and here’s the story.
This is the pile of plastic from just one week’s worth of groceries from Walmart, which someone kindly shops for us and loads in our car in the Walmart parking lot.
Some bags contain one item of food. Never are there more than three items in a bag. Many items are double-bagged. Some are not even heavy, such as three onions in one double bag. And one item in this order was triple-bagged!
There are 23 bags in this pile for $63 worth of groceries. If I bagged them myself, they would fit into three reusable bags.
Last week we had an opportunity to drive an hour south for Senior Hour at Trader Joe’s in Charleston.
Trader Joe’s limits the number of people, won’t let anyone in the store without a mask, AND they allow you to bring your own bags.
And look at this, the object of my delight for today ...
Organic potatoes. In a PAPER bag.
Even the little window is not plastic. It is made of sugar cane! The whole thing can be used as a fire starter in the fireplace when the potatoes are gone.
Forced into isolation by the Covid pandemic, immersed in political and social ugliness, reality often just plain sucks right now. When daily life is picking up your groceries in the Walmart parking lot, not seeing your children or grandchildren for a year, doing the best you can to help your mother from nine hours away
What can save us from despair is a gift we humans alone have received: imagination. Though stuck here for now, through imagining the future we can experience hope for better things to come.
Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is everything. It is the preview for life’s coming attractions.”
Imagination precedes change, transformation, progress. If you can’t first imagine a thing, it will never be! Who hasn’t found pleasure and escape these days in imagining what it will be like to freely do all those things we love once again?
I can’t even imagine what my life would be like right now without the delight of my imagination!
Today’s delight is a photo from my daughter of my grandson, proud to have lost a front tooth and anticipating a visit from the Tooth Fairy.
When you are six, losing a tooth is cause for joy and celebration. (Hm, not the same when you’re 10 or 12 decades older, is it.) A quick check with Google reveals that the average net gain from the night-flying tooth fairy is now $4.03 a tooth; the last experience I had involving a tooth resulted in a $1000 deficit to the bank account!
I don’t know whose nursery this was just weeks ago. By its size, 1 3/4 inches across the opening, it was someone very small. A hummingbird perhaps?
We walked this beautiful forest trail in the Santee Coastal Preserve this morning, immersed in the foliage colors, followed by a flock of little birds that teased us, flitting from one side of the trail to the other and back again, challenging us to figure out who they were.
Ruby crowned kinglets, chipping sparrows, chickadee, nuthatch, perhaps a pine warbler — a glimpse here and there was all they allowed.
On our way back to the car I lagged behind alone and came upon an object that had not been there 20 minutes before: on the trail, a perfect tiny bird nest. I picked it up, so light I hardly felt it was there.
In my mind I heard one of the little teases in the trees above me say, “This is for you. I know you’ll like it and I don’t need it anymore.”
I carried the nest back to the car and placed it gently in The Writer’s hands. Together we admired the beautiful workmanship, imagined it with jelly-bean size eggs, gaping mouths open for feeding, tiny bird feet perched on the lip for first flight.
I was listening to a podcast the other day (The Growing Edge), an interview of Ross Gay, who wrote the New York Times bestseller, The Book of Delights.
Upon contemplation of his 47th birthday, he decided his life needed more wonder, attention and appreciation focused on the small things. He began to seek out these “ordinary” wonders and write a daily short essay for the next year.
First I thought, I want to read this book! Mr Ross is a renowned poet, essayist, black husband and father. His short daily essays are a delight — heart wrenching, funny, modern, timely, universal, poetical, philosophical.
I love them.
As I read, something began to build in my mind. This toughest, craziest, most tumultuous year of my existence could use a grand-gesture finish. Wouldn’t it be great to top it off with something positive? Like Mr Ross, to commit to looking for something Delightful every day and to honor it with a few words or a photograph? And what better timing than the season of Advent, Christmas, and a brand new year in sight?
Yup, I decided, I’m in!
Here I am on December first with today’s Delight: a never-seen-before, unnamed, gorgeous butterfly or moth.
Weeks after butterflies were gone for the summer, there were five of them flitting around in the sun on an azalea bush on the edge of a woods I walk by most every day. Surprise, I think, can be an important element of Delight. They were flitting so fast my phone couldn’t focus on one before it disappeared from the frame, but I did manage this one photograph (It doesn’t do it justice; the colors were iridescent, coppery and turquoise.).
As quickly as I came upon them they were gone. That’s the way of Delights, I think. Here and gone way too fast.
I’d be Delighted if you wanted to share something today