Did you ever write to Santa as a kid? Did you ever leave a note for the tooth fairy as a kid? Or better still, have you seen your child write to Santa or rave about the tooth fairy? A few weeks ago, my son’s tooth came out, and as we talked about the tooth fairy, he said didn’t believe in the tooth fairy, and so he wouldn’t put his tooth under his pillow.
Children write letters to mythical figures like Santa, and for good reason, parents, grandparents and some loved ones encourage them to do so. It’s all part of the excitement, thrill, and innocence of being a child. Several years ago, a Muslim girl wrote a letter to Santa during Christmas. In the letter, the young girl acknowledged that although she didn’t share the same faith with Santa, she was nonetheless grateful that Santa was going around the world spreading joy. This young, Muslim girl really didn’t know, nor do I think she was overly concerned about, whether Santa was mythical or not. Her main concern was that Santa was spreading joy to children all over the world.
One such letter appeared in the mailbox of Jurgen Klopp, the manager of Liverpool Football Club in England. This letter was written by a ten-year-old boy Daragh Curley, who supports rival club Manchester United. In his letter, Daragh makes a unusual request to Klopp, a request that he should let Liverpool lose. Apparently, Liverpool is doing very well; they haven’t lost a league match and, conversely, Manchester United isn’t doing as well as they used to, and so Daragh’s plea to Klopp was for him to let Liverpool lose.
Klopp receives hundreds of letters, and he reads them as he is able. Fortunately, he read Daragh’s letter, but unlike the many other letters that he reads and does not reply, he found Daragh’s letter to be quite cheeky, and so he decided to reply - which was very gracious on his part.
A salient point he made in his reply, which I found to be deeply telling, was this: “Luckily for you, we have lost games in the past and we will lose games in the future because that is football. The problem is when you are ten years old you think that things will always be as they are now, but if there is one thing I can tell you as 52-year-old it is that this most definitely isn’t the case.” Indeed, it isn’t the case, has never been, and will not be - the only exception is God. There was a time when Manchester United was on top of their game while Liverpool struggled, but that time is currently over. He seems to say that Liverpool is doing exceptionally better than Manchester United, but it is only a matter of time before their flight at the top would be over.
In a much deeper way, Klopp seems to be helping Daragh, and us, to embrace the idea of impermanence - nothing lasts forever. Consider the lilies of the field, which are here today, and yet tomorrow are thrown into the fire; impermanence, Jesus said. Our years are three score and ten; impermanence, said the Psalmist. If you haven’t had the chance to read Ecclesiastes Chapter 1 - where Qoheleth raves about all being vanity - I implore you to read it. Within those verses are words tempered with reality and softened by the only permanence we know - God’s grace. That is why I continually believe that there isn’t much about our life that offers a deeper appreciation of that same life than our ability to embrace its impermanent nature, for that is the one thing that shapes and nurtures our outlook on life.
Indeed, a 10-year-old boy could readily assume that everything remains the same, forever. If you are blinded by your own ego, you are likely to believe that everything remains the same, forever. If you’re blinded by indifference, you are likely to believe that you have nothing to do with life being unfair, nor should you do anything about it, and so your indifference is not only justified, but remains the same, forever.
When I was a 10-year-old boy, I thought like Daragh. And Paul reminds me with these words: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became an adult, I put away the things of a child.” In fact, it wasn’t up until I was fourteen years old did I understand the harsh reality that there’s some impermanence about life, and those are often caused by factors and circumstances beyond our control. Daragh helps affirm that it is only a 10-year-old who may believe in permanency, but who may grow to become a 52-year-old that understands life’s impermanence.
As adults, we do write letters to Santa. The only problem is we don’t mail those letters. Our words find no space on any paper. We utter those words. We mumble those words. We murmur those words. We whisper those words. We scream those words. They are words captured in the sacredness of prayer; they are words about our needs to a different Santa - God, the only permanence there is.
Lent’s gift is one of a stark reminder about our mortality - impermanence. And in as much as we act like Daragh, we need those like Klopp to remind us that he cannot, by choice, let Liverpool lose.
Impermanence - the gift, and beauty, of Lent.