Roger Marolt: A gift too big to fit under the tree
“Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
I never thought Aspen similar to Bethlehem. I’ve never been to Bethlehem and there is no skiing there. Still, I see it. It hasn’t been apparent in the 58 years I’ve called this place home. Perhaps it is something so familiar that I’ve overlooked it. Or, maybe the spirit of this season has struck me differently this pandemic year.
You can hardly blame me for missing it. The preponderance of clues pointed elsewhere. Aspen rarely lies still. The stars that pass by shine with fanfare and staged photo ops. Everlasting light? We advertise it, but struggle in darkness at times like everyone else. As for hopes and fears, the quality of our skiing experience rarely disappoints, but holy smokes, what is the credit card bill going to look like?
Never mind the contradictions. There is a striking similarity between the towns. In close proximity to both are spectacular natural wonders that can be mistaken for nothing but the handy work of God. Bethlehem had the star guiding the shepherds and we have the mountains pulling us.
The inns are not full this Christmas and Aspen’s ballyhooed bustle is distinctly muted. It’s strange, uncomfortable at best. I was 14 the last time Aspen was quieted like this at Christmastime. It was drought then. I didn’t think I would see it like that again. But here I am, trying to be content with what I cannot control. It’s hard, like following a star that common sense says will lead nowhere. And still, with normal distractions erased by the pandemic, I fill the void by taking the first step and then another.
It looks like this is the year I will be the contemplative shepherd rather than the frantic inn keeper or the traveler scrambling for a room. I will follow the quieter trail to the mountain, a stupendous creation far bigger than I in mass, but not in soul. I will stand upon it in awesome wonder and be steadied by the incomprehensible hands that made it, the existence of which is proved then and there, and I will feel alone but not lonesome. I will gaze, eyes open, at the future. I will feel led by the heart to something much greater by this physical wonder: its and my Creator. Which is loved more? Which is the greater miracle? The mountain or me?
I will gaze across the lowlands understanding that, at the end of my earthly life, I will not be troubled over anything and then ask myself, if this be true, why should I worry about those same things now? It’s a question with an obvious answer almost impossible to believe and, so, the human struggle will continue, but freshly bolstered with truth begging to find light in my mind. It is what makes a heart beat to the point of bursting with hope, encapsulating the excitement of Christmas morning.
The immersion in Christmas never gets old. It is by a design hard to understand and easily felt. How could it be true, beginning with God placing himself inside his own creation as a baby, birthed in a barn, mostly unnoticed, poor and humble, to become known to the world for all ages by revealing absolute truth and loving us more incomprehensibly than the manner in which he revealed himself to us?
The life of a shepherd is undoubtedly one of isolation and loneliness, not one to sell as a lifestyle choice. Yet there must also be benefits and other takeaways, otherwise there would be no shepherds. One thing I have gleaned from tangential bouts of taking myself out of societal circulation onto the side of mountains, in the center of everything but close to nothing, is the discovery that there is a clogged filter in us that can be replaced, that suddenly allows the crisp, clean, essential things in life to come through unimpeded to replenish the purpose our souls strive for.
For living through this pandemic, maybe we acquire the wisdom of the shepherds working the hillsides outside of Bethlehem two millennia ago. Perhaps this is finally the year we avoid the post-Christmas letdown and the spirit of the season proves permanent. We have exercised hope long and hard this year. It has become stronger, more resilient. Today, that is our most incredible gift.
Roger Marolt wishes everyone a joyous Holiday Season. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The high cost of living in the Roaring Fork Valley is one of the factors that makes our population perpetually restless and transient.