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A top hat and tails

It can be tempting to harden our hearts as protection. What would life look like if we lived like daffodils blooming in late winter? Like a middle schooler wearing a top hat and tails to a dance?

Photo by Yoksel 🌿 Zok on Unsplash

The outfits of this year’s Valentine’s Day middle-school dancers spanned the fashion spectrum from jeans to dress pants, worn T-shirts to prom dresses. My mind lingers on the one kid who wore a black top hat and navy-blue tails like a circus ringmaster. Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, he looked amazing!

But I worry about him as I worry about the daffodils blooming in late winter. They are beautiful but so vulnerable. Out there in full display with no protection. What if a frost hits in late March or early April?

What about the bullying, both in-person and online, that many youth face in high school, if not before? Those threats hang like storm clouds over the lives of many youth that I know. I was worried for this young ringmaster.

Daffodils are “hardy” perennials, meaning they come back every year. Middle school is only one season in life — let all God’s children say, “Amen!” It’s hard, often confusing, and there’s a lot of pressure, especially on youth today. Studies of the mental health of youth prove this convincingly.

Many kids cope by hardening themselves for protection. Some tease, rather than be teased. Attack first, rather than be smacked down.

In any season in life, we will receive criticism, some of it unjustified, even cruel. Youth and adults pride themselves on being tough. And there’s something to be said for learning to allow the stinging spray of harsh judgment to roll off our backs.

But maybe we learn not to wear the navy-blue tails so as not to draw attention to ourselves. Maybe we bury parts of ourselves instead of the risk of letting ourselves grow and thrive.

Thinking about daffodils, I discovered that “hardy” is derived from the French meaning “to be bold.” Originally, it did not mean tough or sturdy, not rugged or durable. But rather bold and bright. Distinct and eye-catching. A ring of six petals and a trumpet-shaped corona. A top hat and tails!

Flowers bloom and die. We are dust and to dust we shall return. How might an embrace of our finitude and mortality allow us to live more faithfully? No one is promised tomorrow (Proverbs 27:1; James 4:14). But we have this day, this dance, this chance to boldly bloom.

Like the music played at a middle school dance, I’ve had Mary Oliver’s “When Death Comes” repeating in my mind as I’ve written:

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

I might add that we could be like a ringmaster, stepping into the spotlight. Like a youth, dressing up to the nines for the dance.