December 16, 2009 Contentment is natural wealth; luxury, artificial poverty."
That quote from Socrates was tucked into the heart of a paperback by Jane Kirkpatrick. While the book, A Clearing in the Wild, is fiction, it is set against a backdrop of seemingly well-researched history, chronicling the trek westward of a group of pioneers from Bethel, Missouri, in the early 1850s.
Times were tough, straining the very thread which bound the Bethelites to each other as they followed the Oregon Trail to Willapa and other claims in Washington State. Through it all, young bride Emma Giesy questioned, at other times, leaned into her husband's strong leadership.
At the times when they were the neediest—making fish stew from the heads of the fish they learned to dry for their meager food supply once they arrived; or using the moss, which was plentiful in the damp wilderness of their new home, to manage diaper rash for her babies—Emma learned contentment. She discovered that contentment had very little to do with the comforts money can buy—or, for that matter, that horizontal relationships can offer.
I couldn't help thinking of that as I began hearing the bustling sounds we've come to equate with Christmas. We try to buy artificial happiness even as we turn our backs on The Giver. We give and get baubles and toys but fluff off The Gift of all gifts. In the disconnect, we miss this truth—that happiness has to do with happenings—that joy transcends circumstances—that, in fact, the light of Christmas shines brightest when it seems there is nothing but darkness on the horizon of life.
Willene Tanis is a longtime resident of the Imlay City area and an active volunteer in the community. Many readers find her 'Perspectives' column to universal and uplifting.