We are not permitted to linger, even with what is most
intimate. From images that are full, the spirit
plunges on to others that suddenly must be filled;
there are no lakes till eternity. Here,
falling is best. To fall from the mastered emotion
into the guessed-at, and onward.
Rainer Maria Rilke, from “To Hölderlin”
We walk down, in the dark and the snow.
This first weekend of Christmas break, I’ve come to Schladming with Timmy and Emily Kelly to visit my father, who is finishing a week of teaching at Tauernhof. Schladming, Austria, is a summer place for me, a sleepy town in which the kids begged the mayor to dig a swimming hole in the river, and he acceded gladly. It’s a valley of lazy outdoor concerts and ice cream eating, all under the meditative gazes of the sheep and cows who graze the pasture mountains all around. In the winter, I find it transformed, busy in preparation for the upcoming ski World Cup, held here in February. Still, it’s good to be here, to spend time with family and old friends, and to show Timmy and Emily these places about which they’ve heard so much.
At the end of a long day of visiting, exploring and ski-jump watching, we have dinner at a mountain hut, partaking delightedly in Tauernhof’s staff Christmas party. It’s a merry feast in this glowing room of friends and strangers, tables heaped high with food while little children run around at our feet.
When the party ends, late at night, we walk back down the mountain to where we’ve parked the cars. The day was foggy, and dizzy snow fell during dinner, but now the sky is icy black, extravagant with stars. A few inches of new snow soften icy footsteps, as we slide happily down the hill between snow and stars. Below us, over the sharp edge of our snowy path, the valley is brimming with glowing cloud. It is a night of velvet and diamonds, as light and dark, smooth and sharp, dance together in these mountains.
Surrounded by the bilingual voices of people I love, suspended between a warm mittened hand on the left and this sea of beauty on the right, I’m so deeply content. It’s a moment I can’t photograph–lacking both skills and equipment to capture it properly–and I doubt that a picture recall the peace and joy of this moment, anyway.
This weekend in Austria has reminded me of the linearity of life, how I may spiral back to the same places, but the past never, ever repeats itself. Life is running on, circumstances shifting and people growing, keeping me busy learning, always, how to live and move in this ever-new world.
It’s tempting to sigh about this, how many gifts seem to vanish so quickly, but I can’t. The longer I follow Christ, the more certain I become that I don’t need to cling to each shard of loveliness He brings my way, terrified of losing them in the valleys of busyness and distraction. There will be love and beauty, laughter and rest, around each new corner, and even in the darkness, He walks with me. He is my shepherd; I shall not want. So I’m thankful for this time, fleeting as snow in Kandern, but even more thankful to know the Creator of all such beauty.