One small day ago, I got back to Ithaca from a week at my Mom and Dad’s in Vermont. My children’s enthusiasm for their snow was completely, blindingly infectious—we were out building quinzhees every day (if you don’t know what one is, look it up)—and, when the yard was too powdery for sledding, the unusably slippery driveway was absolutely perfect for it. They shone with the happiness of true Northerners, in love with the snow in its season, and likely to dream of it all next fall.
As for myself, when the boots had been taken off again and the toes revived by the wood stove, I opened up my leisure-reading: John Grisham, always fun, and this time presenting “The Street Lawyer.” The novel begins following a single-minded rat race attorney, a few years from making Partner and an annual million or so. After a trauma, however, he starts wondering why he is doing what he does. By the end of the novel, he has given up his greed, won a lawsuit on behalf of about 20 wrongly evicted homeless people, and even becomes something of a beacon to other lawyers from his former firm, who start to wonder if they shouldn’t use their lives to help others too. It was a good Christmas read.
In Vermont—made good by the smoky heat of cured local trees, fed in the soul by the presence of family, and surrounded by children whose most exciting Christmas present falls free from the sky (and falls, and falls, and falls)—there was something about the stress of the world that, I will say with irony, simply melted away. “What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.” (Ecclesiastes says this right at the start: it’s the opening salvo to the rest of the poem, a place of reckoning on which the rest of its questions can be posed.)
Many things can be promised in one’s New Year which can lead us to race against ourselves, or even worse, against others. We wish, perhaps, to be like that rat-raced attorney: glamorous, important, slim, busy, sought-after, of pressed—and valuable—time. We can long for those traits, if not the lifestyle that earns them—but that is nearly always the trade-off, as Michael, the lawyer, learns. It is easy to be rich, so long as you don’t care what you do to get there. What’s hard is to try to pick from both menus; and what’s best is to be good, and at peace, and content with whatever else that brings.
Think about playing in the snow, when you were a child. Think about how free and fun and lovely it was, to dig and throw the stuff—to get all cold, and then rush inside when the snow inside your cuffs finally became unbearable. Think how easy it was to be good, and content, and at peace—and how happy it felt. Now, make that a resolution worth keeping: a Sabbath, a goodness, and a peace.
Be well, pray often, and do it all with love.