Fairy tales sometimes remind us of things we may have forgotten.
Recently, the Sunday lections gave me entry to a theme I named the Cinderella Factor.
You know the tale of a young woman put upon by a wicked stepmother and two horrible stepsisters. One day a handsome prince travels to her part of the kingdom. Bent upon finding a bride, the prince arranges a fashionable ball and invites all the eligible young women of the province. Though Cinderella wishes to go, she is forbidden to do so by her wicked family.
We are not far in the tale when we learn that Cinderella has a friend in high places — a fairy godmother who sees that Cinderella goes to the party, though she is cautioned that she must leave by midnight.
Arriving in a splendid coach with numerous attendants, Cinderella is the sensation of the evening — though a guest of mystery. She is beautiful beyond all description. Hovering about her is a delicious air of enchantment. Who is this wondrous beauty? Every song seems to be a song about her.
Enchantment imbues the evening and soon the prince sees this beautiful stranger across the crowded room. Captivated by this mystifying creature, the prince dances with her. Cinderella, also smitten in heart, is so enraptured by this handsome prince that she loses track of time right up to the fateful moment of midnight.
Desperately, she asks to be excused. Thinking she had needed only to powder her nose, the prince is startled to see Cinderella a few moments later fleeing down the castle steps into the night. In vain, he hurries after her, but finds on the palace steps only a small and delicate glass slipper that had fallen from Cinderella’s foot.
Let me stop at this place in the story to go in a direction suggested by the fairy tale; that is, there is a midnight hour when you and I must flee the party.
Writer Carol Bly in her collection of essays, “Letters from the Country,” suggests in one of her pieces that we need to encourage one another to live with “a sense of time left.”
It is an idea that imperiously presents itself as we enter upon a new year.
Christianity has from the beginning taught that one is to regard every moment as one’s last. Bly argues that our culture encourages a slack time sense.
Time may be killed; discernment respecting what is to take up our time is of little moment. It is the way of a spiritually dormant society to waste time as if we had more time than allotted us by the Psalmist.
In a medieval German village, the night watchman’s street song every hour was announced with a special reminder. Of midnight it said: “Twelve — that is the goal of time, give us, O God, eternity.” The night watchman’s song calls us to a “sense of time left” that we might live rightly toward the goal of time.
Poet William Stafford furnishes me a way of coming to the end of what I am about in putting this essay before you:
Pods of summer crowd around the door;
I take them in the autumn of my hands.
Last night I heard the first cold wind outside;
the wind blew soft, and yet I shiver twice.
Once for thin walls, once for the sound of time.
The time spent walking by the sea, reading a good story, entertaining a friend, experiencing the deliciousness of human love, and enjoying those quiet moments with a cup of coffee or tea — these things do not count against one’s total life span.
Still, each person, having “a sense of time left” will reflect upon what he or she wishes to accomplish with those years allotted to them.
The Rev. Merle G. Steva is minister of visitation at First Parish Church in Saco.