What We Live By

The Woods
This morning is another gray morning, our landscape blanketed in clouds.  Most mornings, lately, have been gray.  Our family room faces the woods, and beyond the woods is woven a river.  The trees are old and grand — their gnarled bark painted with lichen the color of a seafoam crayon.  Beyond the treeline, above the river, you can see eagles soaring.  Somewhere across the river lies a range.  The echo of gunfire easily drifts across the river in this still air to rest here in the quiet winter landscape.

Last night, for what seemed like hours, there were helicopters circling above these old trees…their searchlights illuminating the darkness, seeking something, someone.  Over and over they came and left, flying so low the house shook.  I wonder who they were looking for.  I wonder what finally made the helicopters rest.

This little woodpecker climbs up and down the tree about ten feet from the window, completely oblivious to my presence.  Completely ignorant to the world’s problems, to my problems, to helicopters and conflict and tragedy.  Sometimes I think we are like that…oblivious to each other.  Ignorant of what is really happening in each others’ lives.

We’ve (inadvertently maybe) taught our children to believe that Christmas is about celebrations and presents and lights and overindulgence.  That the measure of living a good life is about what kind of car you drive and how many vacations you took, not about how well we are looking after one another.  And even though we teach them the story of Jesus’ humble birth, and we take them to Mass and we think we live like good Christians because we share what we can, they still don’t really understand.  Is that just the nature of childhood?

When Kate was little, I remember wanting her to feel as though she was safe.  That the world was a good place, full of good things.  I didn’t want her to know that some children go hungry.  I didn’t want her to know that some children will die, or that some will live lives that no child should have to live, and that just as there are good things in the world, there are some very bad things. But slowly, my children are beginning to understand the problems some face. Someday, they will understand that someone’s problems last night were bad enough that helicopters were circling above us while they were nestled in their soft, warm beds. And they will understand that there is poverty and there is hunger and there is violence. And just as they will understand all of that, I hope they will understand what it means to love one another.

Leo Tolstoy wrote this passage in his story “What Men Live By”

And the Angel said:

“I have learned that every man lives, not through care of himself, but by love.”

“I have learned that God does not wish men to live each for himself, and therefore He has not revealed to them what they each need for themselves, but He wishes them to live in union, and therefore He has revealed to them what is necessary for each and for all together.  I have now learned that it is only in appearance that they are kept alive through care for themselves, but that in reality they are kept alive in love. He who dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him, for God is love.” 

What We Live By