Every Wednesday I run an online column entitled Wednesday Wonder. When it does it will also appear here.
January 5, 2011
Every so often my eyes looked up from the book to glance at the bird feeder, noticing an itinerant Cardinal swooping in for a landing and a quick snack. The sofa placed me in just the right place, the best of all worlds, where I could sit and think and look out the window at the same time. That morning had provided me with a great gift, a solitary moment, drenched in the sounds of Christmas carols, the glint of the Christmas tree seeping through the doorway from the next room.
Somewhere among Silent Night or Joy to the World the cymbal player smashed the two metal discs together and made a disconcerting, out of place crash. Did he miss his cue? Was he on the wrong song? Had someone in the percussion section placed Souza’s Stars and Stripes on his music stand by mistake?
But it was not a cymbal player after all. The crash was high and brittle and short-lived, different than, say, the sound of a cooking pot falling into the sink. The sound was more like a light bulb exploding on concrete. For some reason a volunteer Christmas ornament had lept from the tree far enough to attain the hardwood. What could be the cause? Not the cat; he was doing mischief elsewhere. Nothing was moving in the house, not even a mouse.
Of course, we could have hung it poorly in the first place, its hook half attached to its branch, hanging precariously all along. Or was an angel troubling the tree? No, that was Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life. We watched that last night.
The particular ornament that now lay in fragments and shards was in its previous state a large globe of very thin glass. The artist had somehow painted on the inside, reaching through the opening in the top with a tiny brush far into its inner spaces. The colors were dark and rich and an angel floated across the scene, obviously announcing something important. Now that my eye could see the paint from the vantage point of the inside I could see the pattern of the brush strokes and intricate detail.
Many ornaments come out year after year, a chronicle of Christmases past. New ones are added, gifts or acquisitions to enlarge the menagerie. Putting them up and taking them down provides an opportunity to remember from whence they came and when, a kind of storybook.
And then, suddenly and unexpectedly, one orb dropped to its end with the breaking of its brittle body, a dramatic farewell. Different shapes and sizes of its remains scattered in a kind of tumbled pattern beginning at the site of impact. The larger fragments traveled least while the little ones were propelled further away.
Nothing is permanent, of course. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of the Lord is forever, says Isaiah. The ornaments have their season and then they go. Jesus is born but has his end, too.
This year we received a brand new ornament. It is quite different than many others, amateurish in its appearance because, well, I made it myself. My clumsy pouring of paint through the top hole created random, uneven swirls of color. But it is what it is, and the baby ornament took the place of the esteemed fallen one. I suppose you could say that one passed out of existence to make room, like one year gives way to the next and the next.
It’s not sad. It just is. Like you, like me, like this world and all that fills it.
Nothing that lasts forever is precious; it’s precious because it doesn’t.
Beautiful. Fleeting. Beyond description.
The broom and dustpan returned to their place in the closet. The cardinals were coming again, like they always do and the day announced itself as something not to be missed. Staying awake to life is easy when it speaks so often.