Falling

Picture a world where, at birth, you are hurled off a cliff—a really, really high cliff, so that it takes a lifetime to reach the bottom.  You would “grow up” on the way down (if you can imagine such a thing) moving through the stages of infancy, childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. 

Because you had always been falling you wouldn’t be afraid of it.  After those first few terrifying moments you would get used to it, and then began to enjoy it: that wonderful feeling of weightlessness, the wind in your hair, the ability to swoop and dive.  Everybody else in this world would be falling with you, so you wouldn’t be alone.  You might even join hands with someone else and choose to fall together for days, for years, or even for the rest of your life. 

Some people would find that if they flapped their arms really hard they could slow their descent slightly (the same people you see running on the treadmill at Gold’s Gym).  Others would get bored and go into a nose dive to speed things up (the same people who live so carelessly and recklessly now).  But the one thing everybody would know is that there was no way to stop falling altogether or to start falling up instead of down.  Eventually everybody—everybody—would hit bottom.

And everybody would know it.

Which is different from our world, where people often seem surprised by their own mortality, by the very idea that they could get sick and die.  “Why?” they ask.  “Why me?”  If we lived in that other world I might say (while falling beside them), “Well, just look around you.  Everybody is falling.  Everybody is going to hit bottom eventually.”  But in this world they know that some people hit bottom sooner than others, and it doesn’t seem fair, and they want to know why. 

“I don’t know why,” I say at last.  “And you’re right…it doesn’t seem fair.  But back to my original point: everybody is falling, and everybody is going to hit bottom eventually.” 

And while it seems odd to say so, there is some comfort in that, isn’t there?  We are not alone in our mortality.  Everybody else is doing it with us.  It makes you want to join hands with those others, and pull them in close, and then do everything you can—together—to enjoy the ride: that wonderful feeling of weightlessness, the wind in your hair, the ability to swoop and dive…

The Sound of Falling Snow

tree_snowing_800Yesterday was my daughter Ellie’s 21st birthday.  Hard to believe she’s been in the world that long!  In honor of the occasion I dug up a story that I wrote about her when she was four years old, when we went to visit her grandparents in the mountains of Western North Carolina.  It goes like this:

It had been a rough night.

We were staying at my parents’ house near Asheville and the girls were having trouble sleeping in unfamiliar beds.  It took a long time to get Ellie down and when I got to my room I found Catherine, my youngest daughter, snuggled up beside Christy with her head on my pillow.  I tried for several hours to sleep on the six-inch strip of mattress she had left to me, but finally staggered back to Ellie’s room and crawled in beside her.

At 5:30 the next morning she called my name.

“Daddy?”

“Umph?”

“I think I hear snow falling.”

And slowly i came to, and more slowly still I found myself glad again for children, for their innocence and imagination.  Only a child would lie awake listening for a sound that can’t be heard—snowfall, or the hooves of reindeer on the roof.  Think how much more sleep we would get, and how much more life we would miss, if it weren’t for them!  I reached for Ellie’s hand, and together we lay in the darkness, straining our ears for the imperceptible sound of falling snow.

It was much later in the day that I thought how much Christmas is just like that.  In all the noise of this season those of us who believe hold hands and strain to hear the sound of Incarnation.  Above the roar of jingle bells, office Christmas parties, and the unwrapping of gifts we listen for the imperceptible hush of God breathing through human nostrils.

And some of us would swear that we hear it.