As I heave logs into my farmhouse wood furnace on a chilly winter day after Christmas celebrations with my Irish Canadian family relatives in Ontario, I recall a holiday visit to Dublin, Ireland, 40 winters ago. The vision that comes to mind is me, snuggled up with a blanket in a fireside armchair as close to the fire as safely possible.
Central heating was not common ‘across the pond’ in those days. Excursions to the bathroom were as rare as I could make them, given the phenomenon of feeling like a human icicle by the time I could skedaddle out. The compassionate warmth of my delightful host and hostess, parents of an art college friend, more than compensated for their fondness for fresh air and open bathroom windows all seasons.
What distinguished the Tomlin family, indeed, was that their circle of friends and colleagues were inclusive of Protestant and Catholic faiths who, for centuries, have exchanged so much animosity in that divided land called Ireland. The Tomlins, nevertheless, chose to practice authentically the Christmas blessings of peace on earth and good will towards all humanity, and do so throughout the year.
Also noteworthy during that holiday visit was the unexpected expansion of my experience of the Celtic arts. The custom at this season’s gatherings was for each and every person to step forward and offer a song spontaneously. There was I, bug-eyed with panic, declaring vociferously that I could not carry a tune to save my life. The festive folk were most forgiving.
The years multiply and unfold, however, until holiday celebrations become bittersweet, when those whom you loved the most are no longer present. Their remembrance, regardless, need not fade. Being Celtic, on both sides of my family, what I culturally am blessed with is the importance of story and passing on stories through generations.
Storytelling, of course, is a universal and timeless tradition. Stories provide continuity between past, present and future. They facilitate understanding, and render the events in our lives more meaningful – from family histories to diverse and evolving cultural histories, as well as ecological histories locally and planetary.
In this season of reflection, we could be asking, what will our own stories say about our life choices and directions? Were they planned or caused by disruptive forces, personal or global? What stories will others tell about us? What stories are we gathering as we witness the world around us? Are they judgmental stories, or are they compassionate?
Do we limit ourselves only to the popular media or also seek out other sources and voices? The stories that we choose embody the qualities that we care about, and influence human consciousness and actions. Stories also provide perspective.
My late father was a wonderful storyteller. He also had a gift as a visual artist. This Christmas I gave one of his beautiful pastel drawings to his baby sister, my Aunt Ruth, the family matriarch. In the circle of her children and grandchildren, my cousins, I related how my father’s dream to be a commercial artist was thwarted by The Great Depression and the outbreak of World War II, as were the dreams of many people of his generation.
Every generation, in fact, sooner or later is challenged by circumstances unforeseen or, for some of us, inevitable because the signs of what was coming were ignored.
Do not succumb to media stories that pit the older and younger generations against each other. The news media thrives on dramatic conflict. Nor be mesmerized by unrealistic expectations based upon the double whammy of a consumer and celebrity-driven popular media that depicts what life should give us.
Rather we need to ask, what can we give to nurture life for the larger good? From young adults to boomers, our challenge in this historic moment is to find ways to collaborate across generations. Doing so includes honouring the wisdom of our elders and considering a vision for a safer and healthier future for children everywhere.
Let us put our talents together to create life-affirming ways of functioning as societies and human cultures in this time of environmental and economic transition. By walking into the future together, awakened to possibility, we then will have good stories to tell.