“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” ― Leonardo da Vinci
Yesterday was the darkest day of the year, December 21, the winter solstice. Here in Ohio, the sun rose at 7:54 am and set at 5:16 pm, adding up to a whopping 9 hours and 22 minutes of sunlight. It’s not much, but I know from living further north for many years that 9+ hours is actually a lot, nothing to complain about compared to what they get at higher latitudes in the winter.
For me, I drove to work in the dark, drove home as the sun sank below the Western horizon, and the hours in between, watched as the sun cast long, low fingers of light across the world. I am always mesmerized by the low light at the height of winter.
My friend Lindsey Mead writes about these dark days of the year surrounding the winter solstice. I, too, feel these dark days deeply. It is when I tend to reflect, more than usual, on the year receding behind me.
This year, I say to myself: How far I have come, how far I have come. And it’s not the external journey, the things we do and achieve and check off the boxes to mark where we have gone and where we have come. No, for me, 2016 has been an inner passage from who I was to who I am becoming. It’s true — most years, most of us do that. We become. But 2016 has been a spectacular year for me.
The Checkout Lane
A couple of months ago, I stood in the checkout lane at Kroger (as I tend to do, buy food, and often, as a mom of 3 teenage boys), watched as the cashier scanned the items from my cart, and prepared to pay. But as I pulled my wallet from my bag, I had to pause and watch, astounded, at the scene happening behind me…
A man and woman, both in their seventies at least, stood beside their cart and prepared to unload the ten or so items they had in the basket. Maybe they noticed the mound of food piling up on my end. I usually joke with the cashier and others who comment on the heaping amount of food I’m purchasing. But these two were clearly not in a joking mood.
The man said to the woman beside him, “You remembered the checkbook?”
Her head turned slightly, but her chin dipped as she mumbled, “No.”
The man took a can of beans from their cart and slammed it onto the conveyor. (At that, most people nearby turned their attention toward these two.) “What did I tell you? Bring the damned checkbook.” He slammed another can of vegetables onto the conveyor.
The woman’s eyes were vacant, her chin low, and if I didn’t know better, I would say she wasn’t present inside her skin at all.
The man continued to slam the items from their cart onto the conveyor and tell her why he did not want to pay without a check. The woman–from the ring on her finger, his wife–continued to act as if this was normal. She was used to being treated this way, and perhaps she thought she deserved it. The man cursed and blamed and acted as if it were all her fault, as if the world would end because she had forgotten the checkbook.
And my eyes couldn’t turn away.
I watched, aghast, and bit my tongue. Saying something wouldn’t have done anything other than have the man treat the woman worse than usual. I know that from experience. And I also know that the man won’t stop treating her with disrespect until she stands up for herself and puts her foot down and says ENOUGH.
As I walked behind my cart to my car, I realized I recognized something fundamentally not right. A couple of years ago, I might have thought the woman really did owe the man the checkbook. But the thing I see now is a man who is miserable, who feels terrible about himself and cultivated that throughout his lifetime, and feels he is entitled to take it out on those around him. She has allowed him to treat her this way for decades. It is the only mode of operation through life that he knows; it is the only mode of operation through life that she knows, as well.
The interaction between the two of them made me feel sad. How can our world be so twisted?
And then: that I recognize that sort of scenario as twisted made me pause. I have grown a lot in recent years. For that, I am very grateful.
I don’t know what it is that causes us to realize what it is that is not right, but I have a hunch it’s the influence of great friends, great books, and a great God. To my close friends, I say again thank you for all you are and have been. To those who want to read books which will change your life for the better, check out GreatNewBooks.org, a place and cause I am passionate about. And to those who grapple with faith, hold on. I hope this Advent and Christmas season that you will know God’s rich presence in your life.
None of us were meant to live as that man or woman in the grocery store checkout line. Even–maybe especially–during these darkest days of the year, we are meant to fly.