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Thoughts of the old and the new

We're still in the midst of the 12 holy nights. The magic of wintertide. During this time of wonder we have been busy celebrating — or trying to recover from — several religious holy days and secular holidays that help set the rhythms for our perpetual dance with light and darkness.

It's a time when we in the western world choose to inaugurate a new year. And under the mantle of the longest nights, it's a time of reflection, recollection and a lot of wishful thinking.

In that spirit this past weekend my wife and I went to see "Holiday Memories" at Oregon Stage Works. If you missed it, you missed a little gem.

The show is a compilation of two stories by Truman Capote, "The Thanksgiving Visitor" and "A Christmas Memory," dramatized by Russell Vandenbroucke. We are treated to a glimpse of 9-year-old Capote living in a rural Alabama that is no more.

"Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning many years ago," a grown-up Capote says. Because he is Capote, his description is rich in detail. He is on stage with his 9-year-old self. "Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar."

And with that, we're swept back to a time that is too glibly deemed "simpler."

The world was indeed different.

It was a time when little boys played forever outside with handmade toys — or simply their imaginations — and worked indoors to decorate the house, went to school, endured bullies and dreamt of Christmas morning, good things to eat and the company of the family dog and eccentric relatives. It was an era of "make-do" from food to clothes to lives.

Couched in the curious patois of the South and embellished with the literary nuances of a great writer, that time comes back to life in "Holiday Memories" like Grover's Corner does in Thornton Wilder's "Our Town." We walk the streets, kitchens and fields of an America that has come and gone and that people keep trying to revive.

In that era there was an innocence, a simplicity and a deep reverence for the everyday. As Capote's childlike, 60-something cousin says:

"I've always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when He came it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don't know it's getting dark. ... But I'll wager it never happens. I'll wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself. That things as they are ... Just what they've always seen, was seeing Him. ... As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes."

Emma in "Our Town" comes to that same realization after she died and longed to re-experience a single ordinary day that in life she had taken for granted.

In these first fresh days of 2008, the year still remains more of an uncertain future than an idealized past.

It is a popular pastime at this juncture in the calendar to make predictions. Resolutions. And as we look back at previous years, it is equally popular to lionize or demonize them. The good old days. The difficult times.

Oscar Wilde said: "A Truth in art is that whose contradictory is also true."

So I'm not surprised that the past and future would hold both promise and dismay. We have come so far and yet we seem to have so much farther to go. Are we getting any better at this business of being human or are we getting worse?

In his new book, "Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View," Richard Tarnas would seem to say "both/and."

"Wisdom, like compassion, often seems to require of us that we hold multiple realities in our consciousness at once," Tarnas wrote.

That is what Capote and Wilder did with their memories of the joys and trials, blessings and bullies of everyday life. And in the process, they turned those simple days into enduring art.

Here's wishing we all could leave the world with today in our eyes.