By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO | Published October 29, 2009
I once stayed for several months with my sister and her family in a small town in Switzerland. Her kids were very young, and it was not easy for them to find other young playmates. There was a small group of kids that they eventually found through school.
A young friend I remember especially was Eleanor. She was five years old and had no brothers or sisters. Her father was a diplomat and her mother was doing graduate work, and I had the impression that they did not have enough time for her—they left her pretty much on her own.
One early morning, the doorbell of our apartment rang and rang. I opened the door and there stood Eleanor. She was wearing her mother’s high heels, a mink wrap, an old feather boa, a string of pearls and what looked to be her finest dress. I looked down at her and smiled. She looked up at me and said three words. “It’s party time.” My sister Mary was all for it, and soon Eleanor was hosting a party with my nephews and nieces. The goodies consisted of no more than cookies, some juice and some oatmeal. But that was more than enough to provide the atmosphere of a gala event. Eleanor had learned how to make of an ordinary morning an excursion into a land of make-believe, stumbling her way into it with her oversized high heels.
Many things could be said about children and why it is that Jesus had such affection for them. It seems that there was a character trait of children that he found necessary for us adults to learn from and emulate.
Our culture prizes the appearance of youth. There are many who want to hold onto it with Botox. The old can be in for a rough ride if they overly rely on the cultural insistence that youth can be had with the de-wrinkling of skin.
Learning to live life to the fullest is an art. It has, I think, something to do with living from the deepest capacities we have for loving and all that means. It means learning to accept and live from the highs and lows, the rain and sun, of human life. It has, I think, something to do with trusting that the presence of God is to be experienced in any place, any situation.
Children have an amazing capacity for play, for taking the givens of a particular time and place and making the best of it. Eleanor met the rather subdued climate of a small Swiss town with her pearls and boa wrap. And it worked.
As we grow, we can easily lose our childlike ability to make the best of what is at hand. It is sad that we learn to resent the passing of years and mull over missed opportunities. The kingdom in all its splendor arrives every morning.
I hope Eleanor is well these days and that she has found more ways to experience the good from whatever resources she has—and to share that good.
Not long ago, I met with a group of high school kids in the retreat house here at the monastery. This monastic place was new to them, and the questions were many. One kid looked quite pensive and asked, “What do you guys do for fun, like, to have a good time?” He had no idea of the pleasure I have in remembering kids like Eleanor and what she taught me.
He will, hopefully, learn with the passing of his years to keep asking questions as to what is good and how good times and fun mature as well.
The doorbell rings for each of us every morning, reminding us that the Kingdom is here, and we need to gather.
Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery Web store at www.abbeystore.com.