Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Best Kind of Stories

Then suddenly [Pa] shook his clenched fist at the northwest. "Howl! blast you! howl!" he shouted. We're all here safe! You can't get at us! You've tried all winter but we'll beat you yet! We'll be right here when spring comes!"
- The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder

Every year around January the sports guy on the talk radio show we listen to in the mornings starts throwing around a certain phrase. "Thirty-three days until pitchers and catchers," he'll say...Twenty-nine days...Twelve...meaning, the days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training. The Red Sox. A glimpse of summer, a briefly wakened memory of the crack of the bat and roar of the crowd. What he's really saying is, No matter what it looks like right now, spring is around the corner.

"Did you hear him?!" Dan called from upstairs the other morning. And I said I had. Only, I, a big baseball fan and lover of all things spring and summer, didn't have that same excitement I often do; that anticipation. A moment later I realized why: it's hard to pine for spring when we really haven't had a winter.

More than a foot of snow before Halloween. Then not an inch since. Most people I know are doing a happy dance. Sleds sit untouched. Tuned-up snow blowers gather dust in garages. After last year's deluge, of snowstorm after snowstorm and roofs leaking and collapsing, all is quiet.

Quiet is good, say the snow-haters. And I see that, when I think of standing on a ladder trying not to, well, die as I attempt to break an ice dam off our roof that was spreading a wet stain on our bathroom ceiling. Don't get me wrong -- I love the gift of a spring-like day in early January.

But this whole thing got me thinking.

Last year I read an incredible book by Donald Miller. In it he proposes an idea that sprang up when he worked with several screenwriters on making a book about his life into a movie. It needs to be more interesting, have more drama, the writers kept telling him. Basically, they needed to "spruce things up." Miller wondered what would happen if he, if all of us, lived our lives more like the movies and less like real life. We crave drama and excitement. We want our heroes to face challenges and overcome them. Something is built into us that wants to see a grand story.

"Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo," Miller writes.

Could we live lives that were more the way we'd want to see them played out on the screen? Miller challenges. Lives where we face our giants, take risks, say what we've bottled up inside, do the thing we're most afraid of, do the thing we've always wanted to do?

When we look at life that way, I think the obstacles we face seem less daunting and more, perhaps, like bridges to something completely amazing.

Last winter during the endless snow I began reading Anna one of the Little House books, The Long Winter. We huddled together and read while sleet rattled the windows. We lived their story as we were in a small way re-living their story. We celebrated with them as they shook their fists at the storm in defiance, and when the warm Chinook wind finally blew, bringing spring. We were pioneers. We were going to beat the endless winter, like the Ingalls family. Our spirits warmed as we read.

And after our exceedingly long winter of snow and frigid temperatures, how we rejoiced at that first warm spring day. I often think: Spring cannot be this glorious in San Diego. What makes spring flood ones heart with joy and hope is really in part due to what it follows. What makes all of New England smile wider and breathe deeper and savor the smell of earth and sight of green is, of course, the absence of them all...the dark...the waiting.

This is what I remember, when all seems well. A simple, quiet life is a good thing. A calm winter and quiet skies should be relished.

But also -- we were meant to fight battles and cross valleys and stumble for water in the desert. We were meant to journey and endure and persevere for the pure delight and joy and glory that will come from overcoming.

May we live our lives' story well.

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