One of my favorite passages in children’s literature is the opening scene from Kenneth Grahame’s classic, The Wind in The Willows. It’s spring and Mole is cleaning up his underground lair:
The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said “Bother!” and “O blow!” and also “Hang spring-cleaning!” and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously, and he made for [his] steep little tunnel…So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, “Up we go! Up we go!” till at last, pop! His snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow. “This is fine!” he said to himself. “This is better than whitewashing!”
I laugh every time I read that—especially when he mutters, “Up we go! Up we go!”
And I think: Not a bad metaphor for the journey of a human being through this world—especially in times like these.
We might think of our journey through a day, a year, or a life, in three overlapping phases that recur again and again.
Phase One: “Something up above was calling.”
No matter how buried we can sometimes feel underneath burdens, demands, problems or just routine, if we’re quiet, we can always hear the upward call of Spring, of sunlight, of the joy of living—a call to rise and transcend. A kind of divine discontent.
Phase Two: “Up we go! Up we go!”
This is about the climb—doing the work of following that upward call to light and joy and meaning and awareness in the midst of everyday things. Instead of letting things overwhelm us, we “scrape and scratch and scrabble”—we overcome.
Phase Three: “This is fine!”
This is about experiencing a breakthrough—overcoming the law of the gravity of life that can weigh us down with the law of levity, lightness, and joy.
We could do worse than have this as a goal: to be able to say at the end of a day or a life (no matter what happens), “This is fine!”
And along the way, we could do worse than this for a mantra: “Up we go! Up we go!”