Call the Darkness Light

night skyThe  solstice is past, but the days are still so short  many of us are traveling to and from work in darkness even now. I think this was the first year I really “got” why so many people deck their houses with  lights – sometimes even before they’ve polished off the Thanksgiving turkey.

They don’t do it because they feel ‘hurried into’ the season by retailers. They do it to lift their spirits.

So this year I tried doing it too, and wonder of wonders, stringing little lights did indeed help me beat back that shudder of dread I feel when the darkness comes to cloak us.

In the classic Isaac Asimov/Robert Silverberg story Nightfall, the action takes place on a planet whose sky holds as many as six suns at a time, where, at 2,000 year intervals, a mysterious event occurs that causes the land to be enveloped in darkness for the first time in anyone’s memory.

And yes, one ‘fringe’ religious sect teaches that it’s God’s judgment that brings the dark, along with the subsequent appearance of these fearsome things called ‘stars’ that rain down fire to destroy all of civilization. Few believe this though, because each time, the conflagration destroys all records.  

The reader learns only as the story unfolds that it’s the people who are responsible, because as creatures who have never in their lives experienced darkness, they panic and set the awful fires themselves, for the light.

All during December I wondered why this tale kept coming into my mind. Only in the last few days did I see it is because that same kind of wild and unreasoning fear lives also in me.

Over the past six months, we have had many ‘systems’ problems in our house, as first the washing machine died, then the dryer, then the fridge. The shower pan in the upstairs bathroom also failed so that for days on end water dripped down into the room below it.

We fixed all these problems, but not before I had expended a world of energy whining about them.

Sometime in there, social media allowed a faraway friend to take note of all this and sit down and send me this message:

Terry, I am sorry to hear about your refrigerator and the discomfort you have been having. I know just how bad it has been for you. We have seen similar things happen here. Our bathtub legs fell off while one of the girls was in the tub, the bathroom sink got clogged up and one of the refrigerator doors broke so for over a month our food was constantly spoiling.

“Thank God things are back to normal now – somewhat, LOL! The roof is still leaking but God is on that too. Remember, you are in my prayers.”

With what shame did my cheeks burn as I read this note from a woman who, virtually alone, raised up her own three children, sent them off to college, and then took in three teenaged girls to whom she has given love and care in full measure.  

The one who was in the tub when its legs broke off was pregnant when she came into her family and is expecting her baby this month, a fact that only gladdens my friend’s heart, because – as she will tell you – God is on that too.

And there it all is in a nutshell: One camp of people sees the approaching dark and panics, while the other just calls it sweet night and waits in trust for the light’s return. I think in this new year I’m going to try moving from that sad first camp into the second.



A Final (Funny) Postscript

DSC_0056Here’s a final postscript as the  jingling tinker’s wagon we call ‘the holidays’ lurches off down the road. It served as my column last week.

Remembering Christmas Past is like remembering childbirth: a certain amnesia sets in. If you asked me earlier in December what happens around here most Christmases, I’d have said not muchThen, last week, I looked up  Christmas in an old diary. 

How quickly we forget.

That year, I came up with the idea that I should send a card to 192 people, and thus spent every spare moment over a five-day period entering their names and addresses on my laptop so as to generate labels.

Finally one morning, I pressed “Print” and hurried away to take my shower – but when I came back, our nice fat-bottomed cat was delicately shredding the sheets of labels one by one as they emerged from the printer, while sitting directly ON the laptop, causing it to beep frantically, then lose its mind altogether, writing  “#!” when you tried to write “the” and “%#~” when you tried to type “when.” And it kept ON doing this, hiccupping and speaking in gibberish for the next 13 hours.

Then I spent five more days of non-existent spare moments working up a newsy collage of holiday greetings and when that turned out to be way too big for a conventional envelope, I went and bought bigger envelopes, on which my printed labels now looked puny and impersonal. So I took another five days and made everyone who came into the house help me decorate each one with a bright holiday drawing.

And then there were the Disappointing Presents.

Our then 15-year-old turned out to be hoping for a leather jacket and instead I bought her a big silky Cheese Puff of a thing. What was I thinking?

So too, our then-10-year-old wanted little green army guys, but when the bucket of them was opened on Christmas morning, I turned out to have bought the wrong kind, a kind that couldn’t even lie down in the mud and inch along on their tummies. What kind of army guys can’t do THAT, right? Yet asking this bunch to do it would be like asking a Ken Doll to reach up and tousle his own hair. No elbows was the problem.

Also, the much-wished-for video game was sold out until March, and it seemed you couldn’t BUILD Erector Set Number 6 unless you already OWNED Erector Sets Number 1 through 5 – which we didn’t.

And as for the two presents I thought were sure-fire, the ones I had actually I had in fact bought super-early and even wrapped? These I couldn’t even find until three days after the big day.

On climbing into bed Christmas night, I recall my ten-year-old’s eyes shining with sorrow. 

“It’s my fault,” he said, so as not to sadden me his hapless mother. “I didn’t get in the Christmas spirit. I should’ve thought more about what I was giving, instead of what I was getting,” he went on.

So this year we all tried to do that in this family: think more of what we were giving and not at all about what we might be getting.

Still, you sure can get turned around. All this time later I now see that I was the one who wanted that big downy Cheese Puff of a jacket all along. I think it looks pretty good on me, don’t you?  The hot pink really sets off my new hair color.:-)

puffy jacket dog