Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible sun within us. Sir Thomas Browne
It keeps flashing through my mind these past few weeks, a story that my friend once told me about her grandson. It was Christmas Eve and this grandson, who was six years old at the time, and his little brother who was two, and his mother and his father, had driven north to my friend’s house for the holidays. And, now, as darkness settled over the town and the snow began to fall, my friend’s grandson placed the last of the ornaments on the tree in his grandmother’s cottage living room. And he said, “good night!” to his much younger brother who couldn’t possibly stay awake a moment longer and he scribbled down a note for Santa Claus and he carefully set it beside the cookies on his grandmother’s fancy plate. And that’s when he did something strange, something his mother and his father and his grandmother had never seen him do before. That’s when he puffed out his cheeks and began to hold onto his head, to really hold on tightly, as though pushing it down onto his neck. That’s when he then cupped his hands around his puffed-up cheeks and bulged his eyes wide and unblinking. “What are you doing?!?” they all asked.
“I’m so happy!” he blurted out. “I’m holding onto it, all this happiness, so my head doesn’t explode!”
What do we do when we are overflowing with feeling, when the excitement is bubbling up and we’re afraid it might boil over if we don’t take some sort of action?!? A first grade teacher drew an angel card out of the crystal dish at the end of Joy Center’s yoga last Monday evening. Each of these little cards contains a word, something to contemplate, a sort of mantra for the week. She held her card up for the rest of us to see. “It’s perfect!” she exclaimed. Her word was “patience” and she said that’s exactly what she was needing for these next few weeks as the six and seven year olds tried their very hardest to contain their holiday enthusiasm. I’m empathetic with these kids; I’m more than empathetic; I’m on board. I’m on board the can’t-hold-it-in-when-it’s-bursting-to-come-out-train. And, like my friend’s grandson, who found his own way to contain and express all this happiness, I, during my growing up years, had my own methods. I skittered around in a jitterbug dance. I shrieked. I hollered. I chatted. I peeked at presents. I jumped up and down. And my mother, I am willing to bet that my mother prayed for patience as she pushed me out the door for some fresh-air play.
It’s not just the holidays that raise my exuberance level. I’ve been feeling bouts of it throughout this autumn season. I’m writing a book. I’m on the homestretch; the book is almost written, this nonfiction book that is part present-day story, part memory, this book that is part letting go, part holding on, that is about the cove in Maine and my mother, about a legacy and a moving forward, this book that contains my writing and my mother’s recipes and sketches and art, a delicious synchronistic dance between the two of us, and between myself and this lovely young woman at Globe Printing in Ishpeming, who is taking my ideas for full-color layout and making them a glorious reality. That’s when it gets to me the most, this busting-my-britches-excitement, this feeling of being on fire, when I’m sitting next to her and we are facing her wide-screened computer in downtown Ishpeming’s printing shop. Stephanie, who also is ready to burst at nine months pregnant is a perfect partner. She delights in my project. And I sense that she delights in both my mother and I. And when an idea arises from either Stephanie or myself, and the words get moved around or a painting gets added or we try something innovative and the result is more awesome than I could ever imagine, I truly don’t know what to do with myself.
I don’t want to hold my head on like my friend’s grandson or puff my cheeks out like a holiday chipmunk. I don’t want to shriek or holler or do that silly little dance I made up when I was four. Or do I?!? I think that’s the challenge! I do! And so I ask again, how do we, whether we’re in first grade and we’re over-excited about the holidays and finding it very hard to focus on what’s required in school, or in our mid-fifties, and on-top-of-the-moon-happy as our creativity finds deeply satisfying expression, how do we release these happiness bubbles, these excitement sparks? I think we just do it. The world doesn’t need dampened down six years olds, or dampened down fifty-six year olds for that matter. And more important, why would we dampen down something that feels so good?!? So I’m going for it! Puffing my cheeks up, holding my head on. Jumping up and down. Shrieking and dancing. And every once in a while — actually, at least once a day — I’m sending myself outside to play! And you’re welcome to join me!