Sunday afternoon Philip and I held one of the solemn little ceremonies that our year is so happily and liberally laden with. Celebrating the ordinary, homely things that make life both interesting and familiar gives us so much joy. Things as commonplace as a new sweetness in the air and a new angle to the sun’s rays slanting across the backyard. Something as simple as flipping a page on the calendar and finding ourselves embarking on the most poignant month of the year.
We toasted September today, and with it, the coming autumn, with tea on the front porch and readings from Coleridge and Wordsworth. (I managed to work in one of my very favorites, The Solitary Reaper, reasoning that though it says nothing whatever about autumn, reaping is an autumnal activity, thus qualifying it for our purposes. I didn’t even offer an excuse for Surprised by Joy, though. )
We read one that was new to both of us, and particularly apt: Wordsworth’s The Kitten and Falling Leaves. Oh, do, go and look it up, preferably in a nice, worn, leather bound book, and cherish it for yourself, whether it’s known to you or not. There’s just nothing like the precision of poetry, the elegant sword-thrust of perfectly turned words, to make the realities of life so piercingly clear! At the beginning I was laughing at the expressive imagery of a kitten pouncing fierce upon wafting yellow leaves—by the end my eyes were burning with tears.
And I will have my careless season
Spite of melancholy reason,
Will walk through life in such a way
That, when time brings on decay,
Now and then I may possess
Hours of perfect gladsomeness.
—Pleased by any random toy;
By a kitten’s busy joy,
Or an infant’s laughing eye
Sharing in the ecstasy;
I would fare like that or this,
Find my wisdom in my bliss;
Keep the sprightly soul awake,
And have faculties to take,
Even from things by sorrow wrought,
Matter for a jocund thought,
Spite of care and spite of grief,
To gambol with Life’s falling Leaf.
William Wordsworth, 1804
I felt these words to be such a charge: to be resolute in all the things I have to be glad about; to refuse to allow all the grown-up cares of life dampen that sweet, stabbing joy in such little things. How frightfully, fearfully easy it is to let oneself grow too wise to smile at life. The characteristic I love most about the woman of Proverbs 31 is that “she laughs at the future”. She takes no anxious thought; she trusts all to God. Her heart is at rest in His love where there is no room for fear of any kind. I want to be like that—it’s one of my most oft-repeated prayers. And I can only believe that when we are trained to such an upward gaze it will serve us well ‘when time brings on decay’, when cherished plans fail or when our hearts are wrung with pain.
I wonder sometimes if it’s the fleeting nature of so many potential joys that keeps us adults from laughing at life the way we should, from savoring all the adorable pleasures that each day holds. A kitten turning a laundry basket over on top of himself. Squirrels bickering over a nut on some unseen bough. A shower of golden leaves on a sudden gust of wind. A baby’s rich chuckle.
I had a very obvious revelation the other day—all the beautiful and noble and lovely things in life are just as real as all the ugly, horrid things. More real, in fact, for they are eternal. They are of God and His redeemed creation. And, as such, it behooves me to fix my mind upon them with all my might and main and leave the sorting out of this life to God. It’s not naïve to focus on the good. Neither is it wise to prepare for the worst by dwelling on it—in fact, when carried that far it’s sin.
Laugh and fear not, creatures. Now that you are no longer dumb and witless, you need not always be grave. For jokes as well as justice come in with speech.
C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew
After our tea we took a long, leisurely walk, stopping every few feet to examine the delightful mushrooms that daily showers and tropical-ish humidity have brought forth all over the yard: emerging from a deep loam of leaves under the oak trees, raising puckish little caps all along the drive, springing up on a rich carpet of moss (some people have grass in their front yard: we are quite proud of our beautiful moss). We counted 21 different varieties, all ranges of colors and shapes and sizes. Pure, silvery white to vibrant yellow, rich velvety browns and clear reds—how we laughed at their diversity, and the marveled at the majestic creativity of the God Who made them. A lovely end to a lovely day…