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Stop, look, and listen this holiday

| Friday, Dec. 19, 2008

Saturday morning, up earlier than usual.

Viewed from a southwestern window, the sky is starting to lighten.

The moon is there, slowly disappearing behind a cloud and reappearing like a lone ballet dancer on a wide stage set in gray scrim.

Mesmerizing.

If only the music from "The Nutcracker" were playing to complete the picture.

An almanac says it was the day after a full moon.

Christmas is fast approaching. The tree lights were flicked on, brightening the room, dispelling the gray.

The coffee started to noisily perk.

From this experience rose a suggestion -- just a suggestion -- of how to enjoy Christmas.

Surely you have your own ways and don't need suggestions.

Yet, this is advice that is not likely to make the cover a magazine in the checkout line. You know the type: "20 Ways to Brighten Your Christmas" or "10 Ways to Beat the Holiday Blues" or some such.

The thought: Vow to be more attentive this holiday season.

You've heard the observation that Christmas is for children, and one might assume that it was made by some curmudgeonly old coot.

It is, however, more sage advice.

Children are extraordinary observers. They look without preconception, but most importantly they look with clear, unfettered view.

When you are driving to and from in the mad holiday dash, a child may be quietly looking out the window noticing the moon, the lights on a home, a dog meandering down the street. The child appreciates what he or she is seeing, and generally feels no compunction to express it.

From a third-floor bedroom window, a child on Christmas Eve may be motivated to gaze out in the hope of spotting Santa. But what he will remember are the lights in the windows, perhaps some snow on a roof, some people hurrying along a sidewalk to a house party.

The sun later Saturday was bright. And the hillsides were enlivened by a coating of bright snow. Each branch was painted on one side with white. As there were no leaves on the trees, those attentive to this "nature" could see deep into the woods. There were no people, no visible animals. Just peace.

Is that the peace of Christmas that we sing about, but don't always find• My thought is "yes."

The year is coming to an end and a new one will start in what amounts to a blink. The natural world may seem dead, brown, perhaps frozen, but look closely and you will see some hardy green still remaining. Not only in the appropriately named evergreens that perk up the landscape, but even in some hardy vines that cling to otherwise bare limbs.

All is worth noting: the chill, the gray, the glimpse of sun and moon and brilliant stars viewed from your deck, somehow more meaningful on Christmas Eve. If we have snow, step out on Christmas morning and see if it crunches underfoot and note how it does so, and pledge, only to yourself, to remember that.

If you are so inclined, start a journal. Write these observations in it. Try your hand at poetry. It may sharpen your attentiveness.

Forgive the commercial, but there is an excellent book on the market that may help you think about these things. It is called "When the Trees Say Nothing," a collection of writings on nature by the late Trappist monk Thomas Merton. It is published by Soren Books.

But in any event, consider approaching this Christmas with the message that used to be placed at train crossings at one time:

"Stop. Look. And Listen."

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Meandering appears Fridays. To share your thoughts on this column (or on most anything) with Mike O'Hare, write to the Leader Times, P.O. Box 978, Kittanning, PA 16201 or via e-mail to mohare@tribweb.com

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