Reaching Sunward

Turning Lemons into Lemonade

The House that Glowed – A Christmas Story

This story is one of my childhood favorites. It was published in Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories, 1950. Let it warm your heart.

It was Christmas Eve, and poor little Johann, driven out of his home by an angry and brutal stepfather, was trudging wearily through the snow. His coat was ragged and sodden with melted snow. His shoes were worn and split at the seams, so that his feet were numb with cold. His quaint cap, pulled well down over his ears and forehead, had a gaping tear that let in the biting wind.
winter_in_the_forest

Night was falling, and the gathering darkness found the little boy still plodding on his sad and lonely way. “If only I could find some shelter, some place where I could get warm, and the wind would not chill me so,” he thought to himself. “If only someone would give me some food to eat and something hot to drink!”

Coming to the edge of the forest, he caught sight of a little village nestling in the valley below, with several fine, large houses dotting the hillside all around. Lights were already twinkling in the windows, while the smoke from many chimneys, curling upward, blended with the murky sky.

A great new hope sprang up in little Johann’s heart. Here at last, among so many lovely homes, he would find someone to care for him. He walked more quickly, so sure he was that his troubles were almost over.

Soon he came to the entrance of a fine, big mansion. There were many lights in the windows and a very bright one over the front door. “Surely,” he thought, “people who could live in such a house must have lots of money and would be only too pleased to help a poor, hungry little boy.”

Very bravely he walked up to the front door, and by standing on tiptoe, managed to reach the bell. He pushed it hard, and there was such a noise inside that it frightened him. But he was more frightened still when the great oak door was thrown back and a big man dressed in the finest clothes looked out at him.

“Did you ring that bell:” asked the haughty butler, frowning.
“Y-y-y-yes,” stammered Johann, “I-i-i’m very cold and hungry, and I thought you—–”
“This is Christmas Eve,” snapped the butler, “and the house is full of guests. I’m sorry, but we haven’t time to bother with the likes of you just now. Good night.” And the door was shut.

“Oh!” said Johann to himself, “I never thought anyone would do that. But perhaps they are too busy here. I must try somewhere else.” So he walked on down into the village itself, passing by the other big mansions for fear the people inside might also be too busy to care about hungry little boys on Christmas Eve.

From the first house he reached there came sounds of music and laughter, and feeling sure that there must be very friendly people living there, he knocked gently on the door. But there was so much noise inside that he had to knock again and again, each time louder than before.

At last the door swung open, and a young man wearing a funny paper cap looked out. “Excuse me,” said Johann, “but I wondered if you could—–”
“Sorry,” cried the young man, “we’re having a Christmas Ever party in here, and we can’t stop now.” “But please, please!” pleaded Johann. “Sorry; good night!” cried the young man. And Bang! the door was shut.

Terribly disappointed, Johann went next door, but the people there were making so much noise that they didn’t even hear him at all, loud as he knocked. At the next house a crabby old gentleman looked out of an upstairs window and told him to run home and not bother the neighbors. Run home, indeed! At another house he was told to call another day. They would help him then, perhaps, the people said. But he needed help now!

So, going from house to house through the entire village, he sought shelter and food and found none.
Almost hopeless and heartbroken, he trudged out into the night, leaving the twinkling lights behind him. He felt he could lie down and die in the road, he was so tired, so hungry, so discouraged.

Just then he happened to look up and found himself passing a tiny, tumble-down old cottage, so dark and dismal that he probably wouldn’t have seen it at all but for the white carpet of snow on the ground showing it up. A blind covered the one little window, but faint streaks of light gleamed through cracks in the wood.

Johann stood still and wondered what he should do. Should he knock there? What would be the use? Surely if the people who lived in all the big houses – who had money for lovely parties and things – couldn’t afford to help a poor boy, how could the folk in a house like this? No, it was of no use. Better not to bother them. Better to just give up.

Then he thought again. He had knocked at so many houses, there could be no harm in trying one more. So he turned from the road up the snow-covered garden path and tapped gently at the door. A moment later, the door opened cautiously, and an elderly woman peered out. “Bless my soul!” she exclaimed. “Whatever are you doing out there in the cold tonight?”
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“Please — ” began Johann. But before he could say another word, she had flung the door wide open and dragged him inside. “You poor little child,” she exclaimed. “Deary, deary me! You look so cold and hungry. Half starved, or I’m mistaken. And wet through. Let’s get those things off at once to dry by the fire. Wait a moment while I put the kettle on.”

Johann looked about him and saw that the little one-roomed cottage was as bare as could be, without even a carpet on the floor. The light he had seen through the cracks from one lone candle set on the mantelpiece. But he hadn’t time to see much else, for the kind woman was soon stripping off his wet rags, wrapping him in a blanket, and setting him up at the table before a bowl of steaming soup.

Then she went back to stir the pot on the stove. As she did so she suddenly noticed that something strange was happening. She looked up. Was it a dream, or were her eyes deceiving her? The candlelight had given place to a warm and lovely glow that seemed to be getting brighter every minute, filling every corner of the cottage with a heavenly radiance. Every drab piece of furniture seemed to be shining and glistening like burnished gold, as when God filled the temple with His glory.

And the rich man, looking down from his mansion on the hill, suddenly exclaimed, “There’s a strange light in the valley. Look! Widow Greatheart’s cottage is on fire!” The news spread swiftly from house to house, and soon all the parties were abandoned as the people, wrapping themselves up in their coats and shawls, rushed out to see what was the matter.

They saw the light too, and running toward the widow’s cottage, beheld the poor tumble-down old building glowing like an alabaster bowl. Very excited, they gathered around it. Peering inside, all they could see was the dear old woman caring for the same little boy who had called that night at all their homes. Then, as the light faded, they knocked on the door to ask anxiously what could have happened.

“I really do not know what happened,” said the Widow Greatheart, with a smile of wondrous joy on her face. “I just seemed to hear a voice saying to me, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My children, ye have done it unto Me.'”

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Things to be Thankful for

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” ~ Thornton Wilder

I’ve just watched the Paul Newman production of Our Town, and it reminded me of the many precious essentials in life. Coming up on Thanksgiving, it’s a good time to reflect on them…from the commonplace to the magnificent, with a nod to Thornton ~

  • Cleanliness & Beauty – I don’t know about you, but I am really thankful that I can get up in the morning and have a shower with French lavender soap, and moisturize with Origins, put on my face, and dress in beautiful clothing… I know – this is somewhat mundane – but what if everyday was like camping? And, so many people don’t have these little luxuries, which are true gifts. Being surrounded by beauty, being aware of it all around us, appreciating it, lifts the spirit. “It is very necessary to have markers of beauty left in a world seemingly bent on making the most evil ugliness.” ~ T.W.
  • Working and resting – I am especially thankful to be gainfully employed, working in my chosen field for a wonderful and kind boss, and having a fairly strong sense of security in these troubled times.  Work provides us not only with the means to live but with a sense of dignity, and it is my hope that all those looking for work now will find it.  Work is also frequently fulfilling, and rest well deserved. Both are something to be grateful for, for when we’re without work what do we do but search for it? And when we are without rest, we must have it before we can do anything well. “There are the stars doing their old crisscross journeys in the sky. Scholars haven’t settled on it yet but they seem to think there’s no living beings up there – just chalk or fire. Only this one straining away – straining away all the time to make something of itself. And the strain is so bad that every 16 hours, everyone lies down and gets a rest.” ~ T.W.
  • Nature – I’m very grateful for clear nights of star-watching, the sound of running water, and the splendor around us. We have more opportunities than ever to share in the preservation of the environment, and our voices are making a difference. “The planting of trees is the least self-centered of all that we can do. It is a purer act of faith than the procreation of children.” ~ T.W.

Autumn Mandala

  • Books – You can just never have enough books. Remember that Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last” where Burgess Meredith was the last man on Earth and all he wanted to do was read? I can relate.  Books are a joy every day, and every one seems to have something good to tell us about ourselves. “The Cartwright interests have just begun building a new bank…and they’ve asked a friend of mine what they should put in the cornerstone for people to dig up a thousand years from now. Of course we’re putting in a copy of the New York Times…..a Bible, and the Constitution of the United States, and a copy of William Shakespeare’s plays. What do you say folks – what do you think?” ~ T.W.
  • Music – I never go through a day without music, even if it’s singing in the bathtub. My iPod is technology I am super happy to have. “Music came into the world to give pleasure. Get it out of your heads that music’s only good when its loud – you leave loudness to the Methodists – you couldn’t beat ‘em even if you wanted to.” ~ T.W.
  • Friends – I have *really* good friends who are fun, compassionate, caring, intelligent, open, honest, insightful and who just make my day! A special thank-you to all of you – you know who you are. “I’m celebrating that I’ve got a friend that tells me the things that ought to be told me.” ~ T.W.
  • Art and Culture – “Seek the lofty by reading, hearing and seeing great work at some moment every day.” ~ T.W.
  • Travel – “It seems to me, once in your life, before you die, you ought to see a country where they don’t speak any English and they don’t even want to.” ~ T.W. You said it Mrs. Gibbs – and more than once is just fine too!
  • Humor – “The comic spirit is given to us in order that we may analyze, weigh, and clarify things in us which nettle us, or which we are outgrowing, or trying to reshape.” ~ T.W.
  • Little things we take for granted – as Emily: said in Our Town, “Good-bye to clocks ticking…and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths…and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you! …Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute? Stage Manager: No. Saints and poets, maybe–they do some.” ~ T.W. Every once in a while I like to pay attention to the little thing we take for granted, like stocked shelves at Whole Foods, the smell of something good cooking, the easy hugs of friends and family, 24-hour electricity, etc.
  • Living in the present – “My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate–that’s my philosophy.” ~ T.W. Time goes by pretty fast and if you don’t pay attention, “you’re 21, 22 years old, you make a few decisions and whap! You’re 70.” ~ T.W.
  • Ice Cream
  • Hope – “Hope, like faith, is nothing if it is not courageous; it is nothing if it is not ridiculous.” ~ T.W. “Hope” was my favorite station as a Rainbow Girl. It’s important to have love, faith, nature, immortality, fidelity, patriotism, service, and charity as values and experiences but for me, hope is a the constant and needed resource that I draw on… hope for myself, the people I love, the World. I am especially thankful this year as we look forward to the inauguration of Barack Obama as our President ~ he is bringing a new sense of hope to the nation and the world.
  • Love – “And we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.” ~ T.W.
  • Understanding – “When God loves a creature he wants the creature to know the highest happiness and the deepest misery He wants him to know all that being alive can bring. That is his best gift. There is no happiness save in understanding the whole.” ~ T.W. Yes it’s true, as my wise friend Sabrina said, that if you hadn’t made some bad calls and hadn’t suffered, you wouldn’t be who you are today and you wouldn’t be a complete human being. So let us give thanks for all the dead-end jobs, boyfriends and girlfriends we’d like to forget, ex-spouses, orange shag carpet and Dorothy Hamil haircuts – we learned something!
  • The part of us that’s eternal – “Now there are some things that we all know, but we don’t take them out and look at them all that often. We all know something’s eternal and it ain’t houses, it ain’t names, and it ain’t Earth, and it ain’t even the stars. Everybody knows in their bones something’s eternal. And that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.” ~ T.W.
  • Our address – (substitute your own) “Grover’s’ Corners, Sutton County, New Hampshire, The United States of America, continent of North America, Western Hemisphere, the Earth, the solar system, the Universe, the Mind of God.” ~ T.W

Universe

  • Wisdom that comes with living – “True influence over another comes not from a moment’s eloquence nor from any happily chose word, but from the accumulation of a lifetimes’s thoughts stored up in the eyes.” ~ T.W.
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Christmas is a time of remembrance and gratitude for the most important things….

 

Christmas is a time of remembrance and gratitude for the most important things….

Abiding friendship ~ the kindness, fun, fidelity and understanding we share

Beauty ~ and the capacity to see it in all that is around and in us

Caring ~ for those we love and for those in need

Compassion ~ and the many times it has been given and received

Generosity ~ of heart and resources

Hope ~ and the vitality it brings us

Joy ~ for all that makes us smile

Laughter ~ and the ways it lifts us

Light ~ in ourselves and others

Peace ~ and the ways we give it a chance

Love ~ which envelops all these things and more…

Wishing you all these gifts, at Christmastime and all through the year.

Merry Christmas!

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