At noon today, I completed a teaching marathon of 17 days, a race to educate many before year-end. The Bug bought me home through dense traffic traveling south, and tonight I sat down to rest and watch, once again, the movie Seabiscuit.
The story is not just about a scrappy little horse with a big heart, or his over-sized jockey, or the comfort of hearing David McCullough's voiceover. The most compelling character is Seabiscuit's trainer Tom Smith, played by Chris Cooper. At the film's start, Tom Smith is an aging cowboy who is not quite sure where he belongs in the world. He saves a wounded horse from death, and, living alone in the woods, tends the animal. He is considered a crackpot, crazy. "You don't throw a whole life away just 'cause he's banged up a little," Smith tells Charles Howard, Seabiscuit's owner. "Why are you fixin' him?" Howard asks. "Cause I can," Smith says. It's his willingness to be patient, to allow another living creature time to heal, to become itself again, that is most moving. He is odd goodness.
My Irish grandmother Mary told me when I was a child that if you saw seven white horses together in a field, you would have luck. I have seen many horses, but never seven of the same color grouped as in my grandmother's dream. I believe we make our own luck in the world. And it appears most readily through the small peculiar kindnesses given and received every day.
The Zen dudes talk about right intention. How harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently, or aggressively, helps one develop compassion. In the last week I have heard many people comment about the craziness that abounds with folks gearing up for Christmas. Is it because so many people want to control happiness at this time of year? Gathering wish lists, claiming "this is what I want" and "I have to give you as much as you give me."
No, you don't.
Christmas is the mystery of not knowing, the heart of being surprised, a story of the birth of a child surrounded by simple animals and the pure smell of a barn. And it's not about being even. It's the differences that are pure, that are truly meant and passed on. It's having the courage to give without wondering if it will be returned. That is what makes masters, true art, lasting relationships. The courage to create without knowing the outcome.
So this Christmas I hope you receive, and are lucky enough to give so that a child laughs in delight, a friend feels less lonely, and everyone you know finishes this race of a year content in his or her own way.