Sunshine at Home
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1861
Sunshine for home plants is just as necessary as sunshine for garden plants; yet from how many homes is the sunshine banished! It is no wonder that so many children grow up morally blanched, or with strange, lopsided developments of character.
Without heart-sunshine beaming from radiant faces at home, the affections cannot blossom in a fragrant promise of good fruit. The proposition being self-evident, needs no enforcing argument. Thought assents. But a picture from real life may give the precept an active force, in some heart which otherwise might continue to dwell in the darkness of its own sickly imaginations, instead of coming into the sunlight.
"But how," asks one, "am I to get sunshine into my home?"
"Open the doors and windows," we answer. "The heavens are full of warm light. Open the doors and windows, and it will come in."
"How am I to open the doors and windows? It is easy to say open them! But how?"
We will undertake your case, friend. It is a difficult one, we own; your doors and windows have been shut so long, that bolts and hinges are rusty. Lichen and moss have grown over a hundred narrow chinks where single rays used to penetrate; and close-leaved ivies are hanging their curtains in front of old loop-holes through which, at least once a day, in former times — the sun glanced in to two or three small chambers of your guarded dwelling.
Your children, the home-plants whose culture has been so unwisely neglected — are sickly and deformed in their moral growth. They do not adorn, and beautify, and make vocal with all sweet melodies — your home. There is small hope for them, unless you open the doors and windows of which we have spoken, and get them into the sunshine.
It is evening, and you have turned your feet homewards. What have you been doing all day? Gathering in and hoarding what you have already lost the power of enjoying. Is it not so? Let your thought go way down into consciousness. Look at the face of your real self. How is it? Do you, in any true sense, enjoy the good things of this life, which you are spending your life to obtain? You enjoy, if the word may be used, the excitement of getting — but, in the dispensation of your gains, how little of true pleasure is enjoyed!
And so, when you turn yourself away from your counting room, and look homeward — the shadows begin to fall around you, and you bring these, instead of sunlight, into your dwelling.
They are falling around you now. The feet that bear you onward, are not winged by sweet anticipations; but seem heavy-laden. You have left all light heartedness behind you. It is with you now as it has been for months; we might say, years. You know how it will be on your arrival — and how it will not be. No throbbing of glad little feet down the stairs and along the hall will answer, like musical responses, to your first steps, long waited for. And yet there are young feet and children's voices in your dwelling.
But, instead, the sharp notes of wrangling, or the dissonant cries of anger, are the sounds which await for your reluctant ears. The memory of what has been, is too distinct in your mind for anything like self-forgetfulness. The shadows fall more and more heavily around you; a weight lies upon your bosom. Expecting the worst — you are going home prepared for the worst.
But this is not well. Try to take a little sunshine home with you. It will be such a novel thing, that we would not wonder at any magical results which might follow.
"It is easy for you to say, 'Take it home.' But where am I to find the sunshine of which you speak?"
You are not very anxious to get home, so turn aside with us into the public square by which we are passing. You rarely go through it, I believe. There is plenty of heart-sunshine there about this hour of the day. Maybe a ray or two may find a path through the cloud which envelops you, and brighten you with its radiance.
What a pleasant transition from the hard, red brick pavement, and the stiff, red brick houses! We pass, in a moment, from city to country. From the harsh aspects of trade — to the graceful beauty of a sylvan scene. The tall trees shut us in from brick and mortar; and we look down the vistas and winding avenues, upon soft, green lawns; and the plash and murmur of the fountains are in our ears. Let us sit down, just here.
The low declining sun shines slantwise through the cloud of spray, and a rainbow is seen faintly above it, resting there like a crown. How rhythmical that sound of falling water! It does not come to the ears in a monotonous flow, but cadenced, like music. Is not the scene beautiful and tranquilizing? Do you not already perceive its influence in a calmer tone of feeling? Now look at that circle of children, singing gleefully as they dance around one of their number, a blue-eyed, golden-haired, fairy little thing.
Let us sit down here. It will do you good, I am sure. Yes, it is already doing you good. The dull indifference of your eyes is passing off. We see a new expression coming into them. Happy children are like flowers — they delight us with beauty and fragrance.
Here comes a sweet little cherub. She has left her companions, and her feet are bringing her this way. You have held out your hand for her, and she sits, now, upon your knee — sits and looks up into your face, and asks you childish questions which you find it pleasant to answer. Your hand lies amid her sunny curls; you gaze into her face half wonderingly; the old father-feeling stirs in your heart, and if its impulse were obeyed, you would hug that little one tightly to your bosom.
A voice calls the child; a hand is reached out for her; you take a kiss from her cherry lips, and now she goes dancing away. But she has opened a window in your heart, and a few sunbeams went streaming in among the dust and cobwebs. Don't shut it again too suddenly. Let it stand open for a little while, so that you may get an impression of their pleasant warmth.
How happy are all these children! How kind and loving! Your ears have not once been jarred by an angry voice. A father passes, holding a little boy and girl by the hand, just the ages of the two children in your home. They are talking to each other and to him in the happiest frame of mind, and he is entering into all that they say with as much apparent earnestness as if he were no older than they. Now they have stopped at only a few paces away from us. What has happened? There is a difference of will in the two children, and both show pertinacity. The boy wishes to take one curving road to a gate, and the girl another.
"Well, what is to be done?"
The father does not speak impatiently, but with a calm gravity that must subdue, rather than excite the children.
"I want to go this way," says one.
"And I want to go that way," said the other.
"We can't go both ways at once, that is certain, unless we cut ourselves in two, and let the right sides go to the right, and the left sides go to the left."
There is a grave humor in the father's voice and manner as he says this. Both the children laugh merrily.
Now you would have said, had the case been yours, and said it in a way to banish all kind feelings from their hearts, "I don't want any wrangling about which way you will go. One way is just as good as another. Come!"
And away you would have swept, at a quickened pace, making for the first gateway, and disregarding all appeals to let them stay longer. But this father is more careful than you in respect to the sunshine. He will not allow it to be withdrawn, if possible — no, not for a moment. He has great faith in sunbeams.
You would have been annoyed and angry. You would have punished them for disagreement. You would have said, in your thought, "If they cannot appreciate the beauty and pleasantness around them, they shall not have the privilege of its enjoyment;" and, acting from this state of feeling, you would have shut up the bitterness in their hearts, and let it rankle there.
"We can't go both ways at once." The father stands still, patiently waiting for the children to agree upon the path they will take. His mock-grave proposition has amused them, and they do not become angry.
"Let father choose," says the little girl.
"Yes, let father choose." The boy is pleased at the suggestion.
"Then I take another path — that one down where the squirrels are at play."
And off they go, with the sunshine even brighter about them than before.
You have at home as beautiful a child as the golden-haired one who sat on your knee a little while ago; and a boy and a girl just the ages of the two whose laughing voices, as they went by in harmony just now, is still a pleasant sound in your ears. Have you ever come with them to this place? The question half surprises you. Of course not. You have graver matters requiring attention.
Graver? Think about that. Is not the life more than food, and the body than clothing? What are these graver matters? Oh, they are included in the word, business. They appertain to the food and the clothing. You are building up, in toil and self-denial, a fortune for your children, taking thought for nothing but their material interests. But is the splendid edifice you are erecting for them — to be a temple, or a tomb? Open, on all sides, to the sunshine of gladness — or windowless as a mausoleum? What are the good things of earth — to him who has no faculty of enjoyment?
Sir, cultivate the faculty of enjoying life in your children, if you would secure their happiness in the future. Let in the sunshine of a tender, wise, loving heart upon them. Take home with you, this very day, a thoughtful, cheerful, uplifting spirit, and let that meet, undisturbed — the disturbing life which has so long made life discordant there. It rests with you, Sir, to change the quality of things in your household. To make your children loving and forbearing among themselves — and obedient, from affection to their parents. It is the sunshine that they need — and moral beauty and health are impossible without it.
You see the whole subject in clearer light. Your heart feels warmer and more cheerful. You will carry home a sunbeam, if possible.
Well, you are at your own door. You feel a shadow already in the air. Your state of mind is changing. But don't, we beg you, weakly yield to the pressure of old depressing states. Break up this bad habit. Think now, and act from true thoughts; let judgment bear sway over feeling. Force a smile to your lips, and kind words to your tongue. If there is discord, seek to remove the cause; but do not throw the fuel of anger on the flames.
The door is shut behind you. How quiet all seems! There is something ominous in the brooding stillness. You move along the hall, wondering at the silence. Whispering voices are now heard.
"There is father!"
The tone involves a threat of unhappy consequences. There is something wrong. You begin to close the windows through which sunshine was streaming. Open them again quickly. There.
Now you are in the living-room. Eyes look at you strangely. You then turn to John, your oldest boy, who sits with a pale, troubled face. He has done wrong in something, and is waiting for the burst of your anger, and the punishment that you mete out occasionally with angry severity. He does not expect you to come in sunshine — he looks only for a storm.
"Are you in any trouble, John?" How kindly you did say the words. See what a sudden light has come into his shadowed face.
He says it in a tone which disarms you, for it expresses sorrow and hope in your forgiveness.
"Well, what is it, my son!"
Still you are kind — so kind for you!
"I know you will be angry, father."
"Perhaps not, my son."
Was it really you who spoke? How strangely all eyes look upon you.
"You can't help being angry; it was so wrong in me. But indeed, father, I was not thinking. I don't know what came over me; and I have been so sorry. Maybe I can save enough by Christmas to buy a new one."
"A new what, my son? Don't be afraid to tell me. I shall not be angry. If you are sorry for a wrong act — then I will let your repentance make all right between us again."
How wonderfully you are controlling yourself! All this is a new experience for you — and as new for the members of your household. They look on you with a light of surprise and inquiry in their faces.
John comes forward and stands close to you. He has taken your hand — he has leaned his head against you — he cannot look up when he owns his fault. You startle — there is an angry throb in your pulses. No — you had not expected that! John felt the startle — and he guesses too well at the anger in your bosom. He still holds your passive hand, but does not dare to press it, for fear the movement should cause you to throw it away. Oh, strive hard now for the mastery over yourself! Do not lose the vantage ground you possess. Do not shut the window through which sunlight has begun to stream. Do not drive away in anger, the boy who has approached you in sorrow and repentance.
"John!" He lifts his eyes to yours instantly, and you see that they are full of tears. "The fault is serious, but I am sure it was not willfully done."
"Oh, no, no, father, it was not willful, but accidental."
"And you are forgiven, of course."
Did you really smile kindly as you said that? It must have been so — for a light seemed to fall over every face around you.
Think, now, how different it might have been if you had come home in your usual cloudy temper. If no sunbeams had broken through to thaw love's frozen fountains. Now you have gained a power over that boy's wayward heart for good, which, if you will but retain it, may influence all his after life. You have gained, also, a power in your home. There will be, for this time, a readier obedience to your word; a new regard for your comfort and wishes; a more cheerful spirit with all. And it will be your own fault if the influence now gained, does not become permanent.
Have we answered your question as to how the windows and doors were to be opened, so that sunshine might enter your dwelling? If you tell us no, then we fear your case is hopeless. The doors and windows of your own heart must first be opened, remember. The sunshine must come first into your own darkened chambers — or we see no promise of light for the shadowed chambers of your home.