One of my favorite tasks involved with Christmas is unpacking my little Christmas village. It’s not one of those beautiful expensive ones (most of the shops were bought half price), but it is truly lovely, with each shop lit up from inside, the tiny Victorian people milling about, dogs and cats, horses, trees. I even have a boy skating on ice. The problem is, I’ve never found an object to use for the ice. I had a little square mirror, but it looked ridiculous.
Finally the other day, I opened a new roll of wrapping paper that I bought last year (at half price, of course!) and realized that it was unlike any other wrapping paper I was used to. It was like a thin foil, very silky - draping, not stiff - and I soon found out that it was very difficult to work with because it kept sliding around when I tried to cut it, fold it, and tape it. As I struggled with this paper, I noticed that the reverse side of it was reflective. It looked just like water. It was like a mirror in motion. I knew then that I had to cut a circular piece of that paper and use it for my “ice.”
Every time I laid the paper down with the mirror side up in order to wrap a present, I was required to look at my reflection. It made me smile, in spite of the older, lined, unfamiliar face peering back at me, because it reminded me that this is the time of year I reflect. Most of the year is filled with activities and pursuits and deadlines and mundane chores of paying bills and going to work, but in late December, I try to take some quiet time to think about the year that has passed. This reflective process is started when I write the annual Christmas letter, but that focuses mostly on outer things. Now it is time to focus on inner things. I’m actually taking next week off to do just that.
As a woman with a to-do list a mile long, my first impulse is to list my accomplishments. Yes, I got my CMT. Yes, I was honored to appear in a few magazines. Yes, I made a quilt square for organ donation in memory of my Dad. Yes, I made a few Christmas presents (with a few to go!). But these are not the things that weigh on my mind in late December.
I learned a lot about myself this year, and that’s a good thing. I learned how to work through deep grief. I learned how to appreciate simple things. I re-learned the value of family and friends, people over things. I reminisced about my own amazing grandfather (basically the only grandparent I knew who was in good mental and physical shape), and thought about my role as a grandparent and what I want to impart to Caroline and Charlotte. I thought about the friction with people where I work, and the lesson I learned when Ed kept telling me that the only person I could change was myself, so I did.
Organizations that specialize in goal direction and life coaching sooner or later get around to Michelangelo’s David, because the story of the great sculptor’s mindset has been repeated for generations. Here is one version:
The story has it that when Michelangelo was commissioned to do the sculpture of King David he looked at hundreds of blocks of marble before he decided on the "right" one. To most of us all those blocks shown to him would have looked more or less the same but for Michelangelo it needed to be a certain piece of marble - nothing else would do. Why was that?
It was because he knew exactly what he wanted his David to look like. He could see the end result in front of his eyes. When asked how he was going to create such a fine figure as King David out of such an enormous chunk of marble his answer was: "That's easy. All I have to do is chip away everything that isn't David."
The usual lesson these organizations glean from this story is that you have to know your goal before you start on your journey, and keep that goal at the forefront.
That’s fine, but the lesson I draw from it has a little different perspective. Instead of trying to discover who I want to be, I have to chip away to reveal “who I already know I am inside.” That’s what I’ve been trying to do this year.
I consider myself basically a good person. I know that deep inside me, I am honest, dependable, loving, compassionate, forgiving, patient, creative, nurturing, encouraging, accepting, grateful, intelligent, and generous. This is not a list of things to brag about - this is what my insight tells me is my true nature, the kind of person I not only want to be, but the kind of person God has already made me. Most of these attributes are probably in us all in different degrees, but we don’t realize it, so we don’t start chipping away to find them.
Many churches teach that humans are basically evil, owned by the devil, and accepted and tolerated by God because He sacrificed his son to pay their sin debt. We don’t believe that way. Ed and I believe that God loves us because we are the children of God, that most people are inherently good inside, but because of life circumstances or horrible treatment or even genetic problems, the good is squashed and the bad takes over and the person lives with hatred of self, hatred of others, and acts accordingly.
So at this time of reflection, I have to ask myself, looking back over various times of 2007: “If my true nature is kindness, why am I being unkind? If my true nature is generous, why I am being stingy? If my true nature is compassionate, why am I ignoring? If my true nature is forgiving, why am I holding a grudge? If my true nature is blessed with talents and gifts, why am I not making more use of them?” Then I review my priorities. "If my priority is family and friends, why am I wasting my time with things that don't matter? If my priority is simplicity, why am I buying more stuff? If my priority is health, why am I continuing bad health practices?"
As you can see, the list goes on. There’s a David in me somewhere, and all I have to do is chip away at everything that isn’t David. It’s a hard process, but it’s a necessary one. I believe we are most happy and fulfilled when our pattern of behavior and priorities match what we know is deep down inside of us. The best Christmas presents I can receive this year are a clear mirror and a good, sturdy chisel. Won’t you join me in your own sculpture of self-discovery? Who knows - in the process we might find a thing of beauty that was there all the time.
Merry Christmas, everyone!