Saturday, December 31, 2011

The New Year--a Chance to Do it Right

"O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
   Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
    And shivering sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
   Missing so much and so much?"
--Frances Cornford, To a Fat Lady Seen From the Train

New Year. Strange to even write: 2012. For months I will have to check myself. How in the world did we ever get to 2012? Who knows? My wife and I have been surrounded by boxes, trying to figure out what should go where in this new house. Discovering after more than twenty years away—that the little old town has changed—much. But haven’t we all. I expected the people at church to look the way they did twenty years ago. And, I am sure they have expected me to look much different that this bald headed old guy.

Stopping for a respite of trying to organize, celebrate Christmas, say goodbye to a multitude of friends and painfully adjusting to a new place—I have been reading a novel. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake. The title sounded a little corny—but I finally picked it up the other day and discovered that this woman can write.

She tells the story of a Postmistress in a tiny place called Franklin—but there’s a war going on and so she keeps skipping from the safety of the United States to London and Europe and the bombs that just kept falling. In London there is a war correspondent that works with Edward R. Murrow. Her words cross the ocean to the people back home. She’s good at what she does and she interviews people scared and wondering what the future will hold. She tells that when she was at Smith College that a noted reporter, Miss Martha Gellhorn came to speak. She talked about the Depression and she told heart-wrenching and riveting stories of the pain and suffering of so many people during those hard days. After listening to her very dark address one of the girls sarcastically asked, “What are we to do about all that?” Miss Gellhorn took her time to answer. “Pay attention,” she said, “For God’s sake, pay attention.”The correspondent never forgot those words and she had her eyes open to people and tragedy and triumph in this terrible days. I cannot get those words out my mind, “Pay attention.”

Remember that wonderful line in the play, Our Town when Emily who has died is given a chance to return home. She chose her 12th birthday. They can’t see her but she can see all that is going on. And finally she cries out, “I can’t take it anymore. It’s too painful. All that was going on while I was there and I didn’t even notice. Does anybody really ever see what is going on?” And the Stage Manager who is a character in the drama answers, “Yes, some do. Poets and a few others. Not many.” I’m paraphrasing the writer’s words but it seems to me that a good resolution for all of us would be to pay attention to what is going on around us.

I confess that many days I have just been sleepwalking through so many important things. So I want to open my eyes and see what is going on around me a little clearer. Sometimes it isn’t a pretty sight—take the Republican candidates that are beginning to spit and claw at each other. Look around you—the checker at the grocery store—your postman—the woman across the street trying desperately to move on after her husband’s sudden death this year. We had four movers working hard to move us out and then to move us in. I did something I hardly ever do. I asked them about their lives, their families, how long they had been in the moving business. When they finally got everything placed in our new home they lined up and hugged us. We should have been hugging them.

Pay attention folks. If we pay attention we might be able to help somebody down the road who needs a hand or maybe a hug. If we pay attention it might just save us from this self-centeredness that infects us all. If we pay attention I have a feeling that we will be warmer and kinder and somehow, for better or for worse, this New Year may be far richer than any of us really envisioned.

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