Growing up in Alabama, I loved snacking on sunflower seeds. I would crack the shells open and pull out a tiny little bit of deliciousness from each one. It’s hard to stop, once you start on them—especially if they’re salted. It’s also hard to imagine how those tiny tasty little seeds could ever become the massive plants that grow higher than my head and make flowers bigger than my face. When you think of it it’s kind of shocking, isn’t it?
Imagine showing someone who had never seen a sunflower that tiny seed in its tiny shell and trying to describe to them what would happen if they planted it in the ground. Imagine being the person that had never seen a sunflower, and trying to get your head around the idea that the little grey nothing in your hand could transform so completely into something so impressive and colourful. If all you knew was the seed, how could you ever guess the flower?
The warm sunlight is filtering through the trees, there’s music in the air, and amid the bustle of the servers and the clink of the cutlery there’s a constant hum of lively conversation. I’m not there. I don’t even know where it is, but when I look at the painting of this scene that hangs over our mantle, I can hear it all. I can feel it all, and I love it. I love how the painting reminds me of moments like this one in real life, when I’ve been in seats like these with friends and family around me. I’m glad the artist captured this moment (wherever it was) and held on to it for me with his brush. I’m glad I found the print to hang in my house, to remind me of my own moments like these.
Cities have long lives. Many of the buildings stand basically unchanged as multiple generations of humans pass through their doors. The streets bear the traffic of life down the same old paths, through days and nights and decades, like ever-flowing rivers. It all looks the same, feels the same, year after year. Even the construction is familiar, the same cranes popping up in different places, the same traffic cones and men at work signs slowing down different roads in turn. Yes, some things do change, but the newness wears off quickly as the changes blend into the familiarity around them.
I’ve always loved poetry as a medium, always felt that somehow the structure and rhythm of it helps me feel the impact of the meaning of the words more deeply. Maybe that’s why there is so much poetry in the Bible. This year I’ve enjoyed trying out the added layer of doing poetry as spoken word. It’s obviously homemade, but here’s my attempt at capturing a few thoughts about legacy:
My son had worked for an hour, building a sandcastle on a stone in the middle of a tide pool, complete with a bridge and a small village on the shore. He even gave it a tourist attraction, “The Giant’s Footprint”, which made the village famous, prosperous, and secure.
…but not very.
The tide was rising. We could see it closing in, but we thought we still had time before it got to the village. Irish beaches can be surprising, though – the sand can look level as it stretches on and on, but when the water comes up it follows subtle hills and valleys that the eyes hadn’t recognised. One of these small rises had been protecting my son’s tide pool kingdom without us realising it. When the water came over, it came fast.
Sir Winston Churchill once said that “If the human race wishes to have a prolonged and indefinite period of material prosperity, they have only got to behave in a peaceful and helpful way towards one another”.
But he still bombed Germany. After they started it, of course. Turns out that “one another” bit was crucial: it’s hard to behave peacefully and helpfully towards someone who is trying to take your homeland by force. Peace is a great idea, though, and a wonderful experience for those of us privileged enough to live in it. Since my home is in Europe, I’m thankful that our wars of the past century have stayed in the history books instead of boiling over in more bloodshed. Yes, the nations of Europe still fight with one another, but the fighting is now done over champagne in Brussels instead of the trenches in Somme. Still, we all have armies.
I’ve a treasury of moments, frozen now, and stored. A freezer full of timesicles I’ve carefully preserved. I love the smell of happiness these memories still hold, and yet I know the beating life in them can never be restored. Each moment past is frozen fast, unchanging to eternity: a monument carved in the stone face of Time, a smile, laughter, a frown. The image of life with it’s breath removed, the death-mask of vibrant Now. As my timesicle collection grows, I understand more and more why the simple act of living a few decades seems to leave humanity looking over our shoulders in wide-eyed amazement at the pace of life. The shock of seeing so many living, breathing moments frozen behind us can’t be easily shaken off. The thought of today’s warmth joining them soon, followed closely by all our tomorrows, can draw the cold air right out of the freezer and encase our hearts in icy fear.
This week our family boarded a plane to head home to Ireland after some weeks in America. The airports along the way were full of holiday-makers going this way or that, some just setting out, others returning sporting deeper tans and new sunglasses. Eventually, whenever they all get to wherever it is they call home, they’ll be met by a welcome party of work, school, and responsibilities that have been patiently awaiting them. As the tan lines fade and sunglasses collect dust, the desktop background picture of big smiles in the sand may seem increasingly like a taunt. Or maybe like an impossible invitation: “If only I could live there all the time, I would always be that happy!” The invitation seems to be proven more and more with every holiday.