Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A Long Time Ago...Is Now

"...She thought to herself, 'This is now.'...She was glad that the cozy house, and Pa and Ma and the fire-light and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago..."

These are the recollections of a sixty-five year old woman, recounting her childhood thoughts from many, many years earlier. The author is the late Laura Ingalls Wilder and these are the closing words from her beloved children's classic, Little House In the Big Woods, originally published in 1932.

How I love all of the Little House books. (Her autobiographical fiction is often confused with the 1970s TV show "Little House on the Prairie". The show was very loosely based upon a narrow time period described in the books and its writers took great creative license with story lines.) Mrs. Wilder's writing, prosaic and pure, has captured the imaginations of countless children and adults alike. I have read the entire series so many times I have lost count. What resonates with me now, as an adult, is the subtle skill with which Wilder depicts the bounty, the adventure of every day, family life. She extols not only the virtue but the necessity of family harmony, and how it was tantamount to the very survival of America's pioneers . Wilder never romanticizes the past but rather, softly celebrates the love that is possible within families, despite hardship, regardless of adversity. A girl of 11 and a woman of 41 can glean inspiration from her storytelling.

The other night I briefly took mental inventory of my family while they were busy doing the things that families do. Ethan and Jim were building something-or-other with Star Wars legos; McKenna was twirling around in front of the fireplace. It was bitterly cold outside this December evening but our house was warm, safe, and content. I wanted to freeze the moment. If I achieve nothing else, I know I gave my kids a loving, safe home. Not perfect by any means. But a soft place to land when needed.

There are so many instances in our lives when we wish that time would literally stand still. What is so surprsing is that these moments aren't usually centered around orchestrated celebrations or hyper-planned vacations. They just sneak up on you and unfold. Like the time that Jim and I, along with Shana, Pat, Lupita, and Eric, camped at Little Basin in the Bay Area. We took a hike at night and something prompted us to all lie flat on our backs, all in a row, and just admire the show of stars that clear, crisp night. No one spoke for several minutes and I remember thinking how perfect this brief, uncharacteristic moment was. How happy I was for no reason other than everything was just exactly the way it should be...

While Ethan drifted off to sleep tonight, I read a few chapters from Little House in the Big Woods. I realized that my now will be my children's long time ago. Of course, they have no sense of this reality and that is, at least in part, the wonder of childhood. They, too, believe that now is now. It can never be a long time ago.

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