A recent weekday morning. Downstairs in the kitchen there is butter out on the counter, softening, lying in wait beside a cookbook opened to a recipe for Anise Kringle. I am imagining mixing the ingredients, twisting soft dough into pretzels, the smell of sugar and butter and flour and anise seed filling the house while the cookies bake. Chances are this is wishful thinking, at least for today. There are other things more pressing today, all of them good, and I’m trying to stay focused, trying to remember that I am in fact a responsible adult.
I wish I were baking cookies. I wish there were more time in the day. I wish I could drown myself in good and beauty and not think anymore, about the rest.
* * *
I just started reading a book, a fitting book for the time of year I think, in which there is a character who loves color. Except love is not a strong enough word for its pull on him. Color gravity is what he calls it. He is completely drawn in by color, stops in his tracks to witness a sunrise or watch a house being painted. He steals paintings to get it. He wants not only to have it but to dwell inside of it.
Something in my mind is telling me I’m supposed to think he's strange, but the truth is, I get it. That’s kind of where I want to live, too.
I wish I had gold.
You know that longing, too, don’t you? For gold, for color, for beauty? That longing to inhabit only the precious places? To shut out everything else?
* * *
Yes, I long for gold. I suspect that this time of year brings out that longing even more. You go to the store and think maybe you can buy it for yourself or the ones you love. Collectively we surround ourselves with light and beauty and hope. We work hard to dwell in those places. To assure each other that this fallen world does not in fact have the power to eat us or our loved ones alive, even when the evidence seems to suggest otherwise. We give gifts, in imitation of ancient wise men—things that shine, that scent the air around us, that speak of costliness—that try to get at what is really precious to us.
And I don’t want to get lost in that. I want to lose myself in the real gold, not the physical-thing-that-really-serves-best-as-a-metaphor.
* * *
Because we do have gold. Sometimes lots of it, sometimes very little. Sometimes you have to look very hard for it, but oh when you see that glimmer you can’t take your eyes off it.
After Oldest was born—an unplanned, last-minute c-section—I found myself lying alone in a recovery room that reminded me of some dark hidden basement, shaking with cold under a pile of heated blankets. All I wanted in the world at that moment was to hold my baby for the first time, but what I had was a Polaroid of him in his father’s arms, somewhere else in the hospital. And I could not take my eyes off that picture—I held it with my eyes and with every cell in my body and it was pure gold.
* * *
I read these words yesterday, in an essay about music education. The author after making the statement, "I have also been musing about the impact of spending so many hours of growing up dedicated to, and inside the creation of, beauty" says this:
“Beauty lives paradoxically in two time frames, the immediate and the eternal; and experiencing this paradoxical reality provides essential nourishment for the challenges and aspirations of the human condition.”
Eric Booth, “El Sistema’s Open Secrets”
This thought takes my breath away.
Dwelling in those places, surrounding ourselves in gold, giving it away to those who are more precious to us than gold itself—it’s good.
What I keep coming back to is that when I feel like there’s not enough, when sickness and sadness and violence and all the rest close in, I will look harder for the gold. I will point it out to others. I will make it, give it, share it, dwell in it as much as I am able, because the alternative is just too bleak.
The anise kringle eventually got made. They are good—delicate and rich and sweet. Do they make up for the fact that I gave up sending Christmas cards two or three years ago, or that it is December 20th and my Christmas shopping is nowhere near done and I am completely overwhelmed by my to-do list? Probably not. But what needs to get done will somehow get done, and I am learning to let the rest fall by the wayside.
There is unending gold to bring.
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