In his short story “Leaf by Niggle,” J. R. R. Tolkien describes a kindhearted, perfectionistic painter who failed to complete the landscape that became his life’s work. Because he was kind, Niggle often helped his neighbors rather than work on his painting. And because he fretted over details, he only managed to paint the first leaf on the first tree. He died with apparently little to show for his life. His “one beautiful leaf” was placed in the town museum “and was noticed by a few eyes.”
When I was 10 years old, Baskin-Robbins opened a new ice cream store in my neighborhood. It didn’t serve the icy, generic brand of sweet treats that my mom occasionally bought at the grocery store. This was good ice cream—thick and creamy!
During a conversation with friends, several in the circle took turns recounting their early experiences with certain words in the Christian vocabulary. One person said, “Whenever I heard the word life mentioned by a Christian or in the Bible, I always thought it was only talking about heaven. I never thought it had much to do with me right now.” Most everyone nodded in agreement. “Yeah, it was difficult to know what there really was to be excited about,” another confessed. “I imagined playing harps somewhere in the clouds, and I felt guilty when the whole idea just didn’t excite me too much.”
Wolves devour lambs. Leopards pounce on goats. A calf is never safe around a lion, and neither is a child! Though very touching, the picture of predators living in harmony with their prey can strike us as naïve. Prophetic pictures of such a scene have been interpreted different ways, but the image is striking. So, how different would things have to be for animals to be able to live like that? Perhaps not that different at all.
In 1996 I was a press manager for the Olympic Village, home to athletes from 192 countries who were competing in the Atlanta Games. One of my responsibilities was to escort heads of state and Hollywood celebrities through the village so they could mingle with the Olympians.
While traveling in Paris, my husband and I decided to enjoy the view atop the Arch of Triumph. Choosing adventure over ease, we elected to climb the 284 stairs to reach the sky-high destination instead of taking the elevator. A good part of the climb required us to step up ever-higher in what seemed like an endless spiral staircase. When we emerged at the apex, we relished the panoramic view of the city—a view made possible by our 162-foot ascent!
Gladiator contains an inspiring scene set just before a battle. The Roman general Maximus exhorts his troops with these words: “Remember, what we do in life echoes in eternity!” He encouraged his men to conduct themselves with the kind of valor that would cause them to be remembered long after their death. But he also knew that their conduct in the present could affect their future.
Here in Britain, the houses of famous people are often commemorated with a small blue plaque. On a house in my town of Oxford reads one such sign: “C. S. LEWIS, Scholar and Author, lived here 1930–1963.” Many contemporary British writers, scientists, politicians, and others dream of having a blue plaque on their house one day to commemorate their lives.
Life can be difficult. At times, burdens, disappointments, and uncertainties can seem too difficult to bear. Poet Annie Johnson Flint poignantly captured the struggles of life in her poem “One Day at a Time”:
Recently, our family took a trip to visit my parents in a distant state. Our two boys love their “Grams” and “Pa,” so they were excited to see their grandparents. They were also excited to miss a week of school, to travel by aircraft, and because we had tickets for all of the guys in the family to attend a local university football game. As you can imagine, my boys counted the days leading up to the trip, something that was both excruciating and immensely exciting for them.
One of my favorite songs is the 1993 Grammy award-winning Tears in Heaven. It’s an intimate song that Eric Clapton wrote to help him heal from the loss and pain of the accidental death of his 4-year-old son. Rooted in tragedy and grief, Eric expresses the hope of seeing his son again. He wrote of a place beyond this world, a place beyond tears—heaven. This song has touched me deeply. Like Clapton, we face painful, heartbreaking moments in life—times that make us long for the day when we’ll cry no more.
Just 5 and 7 years old, Liam and Elias eagerly awaited darkness and a fireworks display. Dancing with anticipation in a meadow, they pacified their impatience by marveling at the pyrotechnic sideshows of fellow holiday celebrants. Cherry bombs, sparklers, Roman candles, and fireworks of dubious legality violated the dusk.