Forgotten dreams swirled and spread at my feet, translucently visible through an ever-undulating, gossamer veneer of long-ago hopes and aspirations that, however beautiful and well-intentioned, had vaporized. Some had crumbled, maybe, but after a lifetime of chasing, are the nuanced differences important anymore?
And after almost too many years of absence, I still find familiar comfort in the creaking oak pew beneath me. Strains of “In Dulci Jubilo” by Johann Sebastian Bach fill the sanctuary, skillfully coaxed forth by Rhoda Ushida, organist supreme. A voice then comes from the pulpit, softly at first, drawing us in, telling the story of King Herod and his paranoid order to kill all male children in Bethlehem under the age of 2, so fearful was he of the soothsayer’s foretelling of a new “king” come to town. The current pastor’s voice tells the story ever so eloquently, but my mind hears the gentle voice of Mary Eshbaugh Hayes, a young Sunday school teacher, as she related the story long ago to a group of young dreamers who didn’t yet know what they dreamt.
This column could be a story of religion, especially as the Christmas season has just passed, but it isn’t. It’s a story about bugs — and dreams and opportunities. (Pastor Jane Keener-Quait knows bugs and talks about them with a reverence that is riveting. I have taken liberties with her interpretations.) As any good entomologist (and children younger than 10) could tell you, bugs are intrinsic to all higher forms of evolution, for without them, we could not survive.
Kids playing in mountain streams know of them and watch them, those small, well-focused shells with legs, clinging to rocks and tiny pebbles along the bottom as the coursing rivulet crashes and rolls over them. Their tenacity keeps them affixed to reliable survival, however unimaginative that existence might be. To let go their steadfast grip would mean the end is certain, or would it?
“What if?” a bug might ask. “What if I let go my purchase on this rock and allow the current to roll me where it will?” It’s hard to contradict generations of behavior, but would it be a tragedy or an opportunity to experience life from a different level?
Dreams, we are told, are the stuff of children, and as adults we should leave childish things behind and get on with the serious business of living our lives. But we see it every day, in our neighbor, or the woman from the ski shop, or the Wall Street refugee; everywhere we look we see people leaving convention behind to follow their dreams. We don’t necessarily know what their dreams are — that’s too personal and convoluted for us to perceive — but their smiles give them away.
Wasn’t Aspen built on dreams?
It’s just before midnight, and I go out without a coat, shoveling light, fairy-dust snow from my walk, just as I did as a child, imagining what tomorrow might bring, and reveling in the hush stillness of the late night, snowflakes sparkling in the faint glow from the house because that’s what they do. My dog jumps and tumbles at me with the sheer joy of being alive, and just as we’ve finished burying one grandfather, I reflect upon my unborn grandson, who will soon become a welcome part of our lives. And it’s not complicated — some dreams are big, but it’s the simple things that tell me I’ve been living my aspirations for years. Add in good friends and deep personal relationships, and my dreams, however nebulous or grand, live within me. Opportunities to enhance those desires come at every turn.
As Keener-Quait so remarkably implied in her reflections on Sunday at the Aspen Community Church (and I am freely manipulating her words), “What if there was room at the inn?” Where might the narrative of Jesus have gone after that? But there was no room at the inn, and we were left with a manger, a birth, gifts from afar — the makings of a dream for a richer future and an opportunity to tell a marvelous story.
And as we filed out of the sanctuary, old dreams and new filling each of our thoughts, Rhoda movingly brought forth life from the incredible pipe organ at her command, shaking loose the spiders with another movement of “In Dulci Jubilo.”
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.