Post #61: Sprung from Joy

img_9756So naturally, against all odds of sanity, I went and did it.  Tossing aside the whole curriculum for day:  ruminations about Scout and Atticus gently pushed aside, Socratic discussions about the military prowess of Hannibal and the ethical conundrums of Cato and Carthage quietly reburied, mystical revelations of the Sistine Ceiling  temporarily shrouded.  We all needed it.  A screeching halt to the studies of the present for a zip line into the past.

With a snap of a switch the room was mote filled and dusky. My class comfortably settled into their seats like souffles sweetly deflating by an oven door opened a few moments too soon. An old movie. A perfect film.  A Christmas Carol, Alastair Sim version, 1951.

Over three full class periods,  we were all swept back in time to Dickens’ 1840s London and the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a tale worth telling again and again.

You know the story as well as I do.  A crotchety, miserly old man, furious with with life and with the world around him,  is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, Christmas present, and Christmas future. And he is changed.

At last with a whirr and a click,  the movie ended. I left the lights low. There wasn’t a sound.  And  suddenly from the back of the room, from the darkness a voice rang out, “So you tell me, Mrs. Frank, just what took that man so long to figure out how to be good?”

Hmm. To tell you the truth, I was wondering the same thing.

So here we are, hardwired into the present.  I’m late to work, I’m fussed about getting to the grocery store, I should have responded to that last phone call, I haven’t cleaned out that closet.  I meant to read the book.  That bill is late, the gas gauge is on empty, I need to make  dinner, I must fold the laundry.

Where am I going?  Who is mad at me for what? Where are the cats?

Most readers or viewers think, I think, that Scrooge was terrified into reforming his ways and living life as it was meant to be lived by the glimpse into his dank and horrible future.  But what if  it’s the return to the the loving and warm memories of his sweeter past that  truly changes Scrooge?  Perhaps Scrooge changes because of the reminder of love. Not the specter of fear.  In other words, it’s the memory of beauty and kindness that allows Scrooge to live and be embraced by his present and to move him forward.

Was Scrooge’s error to flatten his life,  making his present all encompassing, instead of what it truly is, a breath, a heartbeat, a mere whiff of time narrowed between past and future?

So what took him so long?  What takes any of us so long? 

Mired in the present, I push myself toward memory a lot. I think about memory not because I’m afraid of forgetting the happinesses past. Wrapping myself in the afghan of memory for me is a celebration of the joy of remembering. I remember to recapture joy.  Moreover, I am an expert at sieving memory, retaining all that is meant to be retained. And that joy is what hopefully catapults us toward the future.

So in the new year, a season of hope and of light. join me and raise a glass and  toast to the goodnesses of the past and to power of memory.  Be bold, be brave. Recreate your past world to create the world anew. Fling yourself forward, sprung from past joys!

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TAKE FLIGHT

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1920

She was tiny and dark, lithe and nimble. An effervescent stream of seltzer, shot right from the bottle.

The story, as I heard it, was this: that once upon a time, Little Gram, our grandmother Ann Venitsky Chudler, was our own Superman, able to “leap tall buildings in a single bound.”

Well, perhaps not quite. But long ago in raucous games of tag played wild and free on the flat city rooftops, she was an elusive sprite, leaping away from the outstretched hands of her playmates, so fearless that she could escape a tag by literally leaping over the gaps between the buildings.

Our grandmother could fly.

***

1970

Really, no one ever knew where we were.   How extraordinarily wonderful was that?

Equipped with red rubber schoolyard balls and a few plastic jump ropes, afternoons after school we were out and about in the neighborhood, roaming around making up games to play. We lived where flat tracts of land were fast being crammed with Lego like constructions as builders raced from quarter acre to quarter acre.

The rules were that weren’t any rules. So the half constructed houses in our neighborhood became our playground. Games of intrigue, games of tag, we ran up and down the half finished stairs, tumbled through open windows, perched casually and coolly on rooftops. And most memorably, once on a dare I leapt from an upper floor balcony into the soft dirt below. I know all about Galileo’s experiment from the tower of Pisa. Science confirms that I fell hard and fast. But then and now I thought I lingered in the air. I was floating, I was flying.

***

1950

For our Grandmother, the games of tag are a memory. Around her swirls a hive of activity, husband, children, sisters and family revolve around her center. There is always something to do, someone who needs something.   She does it. Tied firmly into an apron she makes porcupine meatballs, ethereal lemon meringue pies. No one ever made a bed better. She grows tough and hearty roses that reach toward the sky. Our grandmother’s tiny feet are now closed into perilously high heels, her feet firmly planted on the ground.

But are they really? Often and always, those tiny high-heeled feet trod a path back and forth to the local library. Curled in an armchair late at night she reads and reads and reads.  Alone and in the quiet, there are times she is sure that she is flying.

***

NOW

We face off on an overcast fall afternoon, my middle schoolers and I. They sit; some slumped, some squirmy at their desks. I sit, trying not to slump or squirm, facing them at mine. They are tired and tense. Maybe I am too. For today then, maybe just for today, the lesson becomes looser, more fluid.

I ask them to take out paper and pencils. I want them to draw.  They do. I open a book and begin to read. The room is completely quiet and calm, save for the scratch of pencils on paper and the rise and fall of my voice.

“Something above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the graveled carriage drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and air. So then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, “Up we go! Up we go!” till at last, pop! His snout came out into the sunlight and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.”

Kenneth Grahame, Chapter 1,  The Wind in the Willows

After a time, the bell rings of course. It always does. We shake ourselves and start to move, tentatively, awkwardly, as if waking from a dream. “You know,” said one of the girls said as we were packing up, “That was so nice I almost felt as if I was floating.” I felt the same.

There are so many ways to fly. How wonderful that our Grandmother knew that too.