it would appear that a giant angel was hula-hooping in the clouds and dropped their hula hoop, which landed in the upper branches of a tree at the botanic garden. or, perhaps, that a spaceship -with no defined interior- had dropped down for a visit. or, maybe, there was a filming of sesame street’s “the letter ‘o'” about to do another take. brightly lit hula hoops of neon light suspended in trees, they cast an eerie glow onto the frozen ground, onto the path. michael bublé sang “walking in a winter wonderland” and we found ourselves inside the magic.
there is definitely something to wandering paths amongst many other people all oohing and ahhing. i had vowed to myself to leave my camera in my purse, but it wasn’t minutes before i failed at this. there were just so many colors and textures to remember, so dreamy. vast installations of creative lighting.
we had hoped to go. the ticket cost was a little prohibitive but we decided – when we woke and new year’s day was to be a little more mild than it had been – to splurge.
we were stunned even at the entrance to the garden, the trees wrapped in lights, every single branch and twig gleaming. we moseyed along the path, pulling over to let groups of people by so that we could be somewhat alone as we strolled.
but this wasn’t a silent and solitary hike in the woods. it was a performance piece we all took in together. each person’s glee added to ours and, dropping all expectations and all analysis of how-do-they-do-that, we were caught up in the captivating displays.
we already have a plan for next year. there are snacks and beverages and fire pits, places to linger, places to immerse. i could stand and watch the water and light “all i want for christmas” over and over and over. i allowed myself to wonder what a garden would look like lit to a piece of my own music.
we talked about our favorite displays driving the backroads. though spaceship fantasies are not my thing, hula hoops definitely are in my wheelhouse and the hulahooplights made my list. by the time we got home we realized that we had listed all of the displays we had seen, each design extraordinary, a celebration of the marriage of color and light and and sound and garden.
our late-night snack had a different air. the gift of being outside in the cold. the gift of beauty. the gift we had given ourselves – permission to splurge a little. a new year and its new intentions.
“…and now, you’re here, in a world of hypocrisy and your love can heal us all.” (you’re here – kerri sherwood)
in a universe fraught with challenge, an overabundance of materialism, a shortage of generous kindness, with unprecedented division and bigotry and marginalization of people, it would seem that whatever deity to whom we choose to turn – by whatever name we choose to whisper in prayer or utter in beseeching voices – that, in our turning, we look for light. it would seem that our fervent wish be healing.
and here – another slice of the celebration of the season – from years ago:
and – in this week of preparation – i am reminded of previous years, many, many people gathered in community singing in celebration.
it is the work and the gift of a minister of music to help bring ancient stories to the hearts of people, to help those stories resonate – to help that which is not seen, that which is so mysterious, be felt – through music. we choose melodies that soar, harmonies that weep; we choose lyrics that tug.
my memory bank is full of solos and anthems and cantatas from decades of bringing them to congregations. this is an excerpt of narration and a song from a cantata i composed years ago called “the light is here – a christmas cantata”. this particular recording was performed by the choir of first united methodist church.
accuweather predicts a blizzard. and we wonder if it is truly imminent. on days of heavy holiday travel, there may be fierce winds, whirling snow, no visibility, bitterly cold temperatures well below zero. such extremes, circumstances that might dictate the comings and goings of loved ones trying to be together to celebrate.
we’ll keep watching the weather and the warnings. we’re hoping it’s wrong, that it’s exaggerated, that it’s cautionary but not totally necessary. that we will get to this day without the extremes.
it is days before the day before the eve of the day. and though i respect that app on my phone i continue to plan as if it will be days of celebration and joy and not snowplows and shovels and heet and de-icer.
there is still much to do. there are packages to ship, a few to wrap, a couple to deliver. there are trips to the grocery store and maybe a tiny bit of shopping. there is de-dogga-furring by vacuum and a little dusting and much tidying up.
and all the while sitting in the wonder of the season. people celebrating love and generosity, time spent gathered, kindnesses and the reminder of ancient stories carried into this time, open hearts, hope and light.
in color. it may be a while. winter is upon us. al fresco waits.
we walked past, on a dimly-lit day, as if there was a 40 watt bulb in a really big room. they caught our attention. i could hear the laughter and the clinking of dishes and silverware somewhere in my head, the strung lights turned on, maybe a little music. the picnic tables, the patio space wait.
we have had a string of days. dimly-lit. overcast and drizzly, a few snowflakes here and there, damp. the sun is out there, waiting.
we have had a string of days. dimly-lit. our spirits a little under-the-weather, a little tuckered-out, a little flummoxed. we walk the sidewalks of this small town, having gotten out of our heads a little. we assure each other – opportunity is out there there, waiting.
we pass signs of the holidays approaching…decorated trees, boxes of ornaments, star tchotchkes and packs of menorah candles in shop windows. waiting.
had we waited for dark, i’m pretty sure the little town west of milwaukee would have lit up. but we didn’t wait.
we drove home the backroads, through farmland and tiny towns. and when we got there we lit our own happy lights and sat at the table in our sunroom.
we talked about how lovely it was to just be out and about. a few moments in dimly-lit days with some added technicolor.
we bought our first led bulb. it’s 100 watts. we installed it in the kitchen schoolhouse fixture and made a stockpot of chicken soup by its light. we were surprised. the light was significant. we were going to wait, but the two-pack was on sale. so we didn’t wait.
the silver tree on the windowsill reflected the lights stretched across the open shelf. the star in the sunroom glistened, strung globe lights below it.
a little less dim.
the moon is waning, the stars are absent. but even in night-clouds, we see evidence-bits of them. waiting.
yes. entrenched in the land of hallmark christmas movies. ’tis the season.
two years ago we actually purchased one – our favorite hallmark christmas movie – a season for miracles. and, though we know it by heart – much like my big fat greek wedding or love actually or about time – we watch it over and over, never tiring of its sweet story.
weeks ago, we walked through downtown to mail our voting ballots. having proximity to town and the waterfront – all within walking distance – seems to be one of our leanings for all potential future places to live. the other is to be far away from everything hectic. it’s a toss-up. that late fall day with golden leaves, we walked along the lakefront and then cut in west – past the historic library and library park.
i must never have looked up there, because it took me by surprise.
an angel statue.
there’s history to this statue, but that wasn’t what it brought up for me. instead, it was a reminder of this ultra-sweet hallmark movie, with a very similar angel statue at the center of the fictitious town of bethlehem and a person who looks strikingly like this angel – an angel who is cast as multiple characters in the movie. it’s a heartwarming story.
we spent the rest of the walk, wondering about never noticing this angel statue before and talking about the generosities and grace in the movie we love. it cast a magical quality to our walk that day. we were surrounded by what-felt-like a gentle cloak of hopefulness, of light.
we’ve held off so far. but soon. soon we will pull out this movie and the fleece sherpa blanket on the couch. and we will sit and watch – once again – knowing exactly what is going to happen and still getting teary-eyed. both of us.
it will remind us of those around us without whose goodness we might be lost.
“when i am among the trees, especially the willows and the honey locust, equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines, they give off such hints of gladness.i would almost say that they save me, and daily.” (mary oliver *when i am among the trees)
which is why we walk in the woods.
“i am so distant from the hope of myself, in which i have goodness, and discernment, and never hurry through the world but walk slowly, and bow often.”(mary oliver *)
which is why we walk in the woods.
“around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out,“stay awhile.” the light flows from their branches. and they call again,“it’s simple,”they say,“and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.”(mary oliver *)
which is why we walk in the woods.
and this day – the day of this trail – we hiked the familiar, listening to the greetings of trees who knew us, remembered us. it was comforting and, though they were silent but for the rustling high above us, they rained down the last of their leaves on us, like a ticket-tape parade.
which is why we walk in the woods.
“trees go wandering forth in all directions with every wind, going and coming like ourselves, traveling with us around the sun two million miles a day, and through space heaven knows how fast and far!”(john muir)
we leave a bit of worry behind in each step. we will retrieve them later, all the bits. we dream and wonder and walk under the canopy of these giants that stay with us, tuck us in, give us pause. we shuffle our feet through fallen fall and draw in long breaths of musky leaves piling around the underbrush.
which is why we walk in the woods.
“between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.” (john muir)
and between every two oaks and every two maples and every two hickories and every two ash and every two cottonwoods and every two elms and every two willows…doorways. “it’s simple,” they say.
littlebabyscion is ready. i washed it and vacuumed it and wiped out the inside, reorganizing its small storage spaces, checking to make sure the necessities were there. we travel always with a small tool kit, duct tape (this is from experience), twist ties, rubber bands of all sizes and a big maglite flashlight. light is always good on a dark highway, but the light was barely discernible when i checked it, so i changed the batteries and put extras in a small bag that also has jumper cables and a quart of oil, things we have determined to be practical. in the winter there are a few additions, a few things that my sweet poppo always made sure i carried along. but it’s still late summer, so the extender snow brush/scraper can hang in the garage just a bit longer and the kitty litter doesn’t need to come along. littlebabyscion is ready to go to the shop today and come home later with a muffler that doesn’t make noise. (to muffle: to make quieter and more difficult to hear; muffler: a device fixed to the exhaust of a motor vehicle to reduce engine noise.) it waits patiently in the driveway until The Time.
the people who know – like our mechanic, the exhaust system shop, our plumber, our electrician, the drain experts, tree services, gardening wizards, the company we will choose to be our mason – they are like lights in the darkness. along with their expertise and the wisdom of friends who have beentheredonethat we survive the normal – and not-so-normal – challenges of home and car ownership. it would seem rare – a person without some sort of concentric circle of informants surrounding them in problem-solving and decision-making. asking questions, asking for advice, seeking information are the basis for learning and, it seems, every day is an opportunity for that. (and we haven’t even mentioned the whole changing-bodies piece of this life-thing.)
we stood outside on the deck, the only light from a few torches and the bonfire across the yard; we gazed at the sky. it seemed thousands of stars gazed back at us. the james webb telescope has delivered photographs of space back to us here on this planet, a place that feels big but is merely tiny in the vast. seeing billions and billions of light years away, i read that the webb captures not just the birth of stars but, also, their last dances. it is hard to wrap your head around looking back in time in such a profound way. the light goes on and on. and on.
we each build a framework around ourselves. none of us exists without the other, really. at a time when our purple-mountain-majesty-land continues to be divided and people fight for control and power and are practicing efforts serving to undermine, marginalize, divide further, it would seem prudent to remember the tiny-in-vast. transience.
we can be the light for each other…in so many ways. or we can snuff it out and try to go on without. the stars are watching.
always prepared, always planning ahead for possible big bangs, my poppo would vote for light.
and, if i am honest, i would tell you that i can feel the fog lifting. finally. i don’t think i knew the extent of the fog because fog is kind of like that. dense and clammy, less penetrable by light. once you are in it, you feel somewhat disoriented and everything looks different. you can’t really tell how foggy it is because suddenly you have nothing with which to compare it.
we underestimate the importance of attending to our emotional health. yes, there are all kinds of positive memes out there. yes, there are self-help books galore. yes, there are commercials on tv recommending therapy. yes, yes, yes. but we are stoic, we humans, and we are also stubborn and self-conscious. and many of us underplay how we are feeling, so as not to make others uncomfortable with our grappling. people ask how we are and our answer is “fine”. it’s just too too much to give a real answer. most people prefer answers with a little vague blurriness.
i ran into someone a bit ago at the fedex store. she asked me how i was. i told her. i don’t mean i told her “fine”. i actually told her. i can’t say it was a mistake, but she was writhing and trying to get away, though i was simply telling her how i was. i wasn’t verbose; it didn’t take much to say i had been struggling. but it was a truth and maybe she would have rather heard that everything that had happened in the last couple years took no toll. she wanted everything to be “fine”.
i recently saw a meme on someone’s facebook page. it read: “people don’t want to be talked out of their feelings. people want to be heard, seen, felt and understood.” (rachel samson) i always wonder if the people who post such things really mean them. surely they have also experienced times of soupy, where there was a ceiling of zero and they were feeling all of what life had tossed them.
it is in looking back at the dissipating cloud of fog that you know a little more the extent of your murky. it is in noticing light peeking in that you know a little more the extent of the loss of light. it is in seeing more clearly that you know a little more how much clarity was missing. it is in feeling my shoulders rise that i know that i have been bent under the weight of some sadness, some disappointment, some confusion.
though we all function in the middle of our haze, out of necessity, out of self-preservation, out of obligation, there is a moment when a pinprick of brightness burns through. we realize that the horizon is still there and that now, with the lure of distinct light and the buoys of clarity, we are headed in that direction. we’ve been brave and we’ve pulled energy from every cell to get to to that point and we keep taking steps, taking steps.
it isn’t easy. despite advertising dollars spent, this society is not really about self-help. it does not encourage time to be within oneself, time to rejuvenate, time to be healthy. our ideals push success and prosperity, seemingly at the price of balance. there is a cost for sharing what is real, for standing in fog, a worry of judgement and marks of weakness in our permanent record.
it’s up to each of us to step aside the everchugging uphill-downhill train and catch our breath. it’s up to each of us to breathe slowly and sort to that which makes us sit on the fulcrum of the nonstop seesaw. it’s up to each of us to be gentle on ourselves, to lighten up, to seek soft days that feed us and give us strength for the other days. it’s up to each of us to stand in self-care, to not worry ourselves with wondering about the judgement of others. it’s up to each of us to eliminate the stigma of admitting struggle. it’s up to each of us to support one another in the times of fog, to mean it if we ask “how are you?”. it’s up to each of us to reach and touch the curtain of fog as it lifts, grateful not only for its leaving, but for what we learned about its presence.
“the fog has lifted the weight is gone lightness has returned singing is in me humor also light again and i do not know why- “
one of the first things i love to do in the morning is open the miniblinds. dogga helps me. “open up the house with momma,” i call to him and he tags along. the moments of letting in the world again.
at night i really like closing the blinds, turning on the lamps and happy lights, closing out the world and cozying into our home. but in the morning – and i attribute this to my sweet momma, the person who would flit from room to room singsonging “good morning, sunshine!” – i can’t wait to greet the day.
there have been days when this hasn’t been so. days when the cold from the outside and some despair on the inside have led me to keeping it all closed up, locking it all out. humans, with a gamut of emotion, we all have those times, i suspect. the days when looking out doesn’t seem like a good idea because you can barely get past the membrane of your own heart or the nagging of your mind. but, in the way that time does, the moments tick by and somehow you do the work – even just a little, sometimes just enough – and you move past closed blinds.
an acquaintance – who i hadn’t seen in quite a while – asked me the other day about my children…where they are living, what they are doing these days. i told her that my son was living in chicago and answered that my daughter and her boyfriend had moved to north carolina. she looked at me and said, “oh! that’s right near where you’re from!” i hesitated a beat or two and tilted my head at her. she continued, “well, you’re from new york, right? that’s right near new york!”
i didn’t quite know what to do – i wondered if she had unfolded the usa map in her head as it seemed there was a folded overlap somehow making ny next to nc – but i answered, “why, yes! they are both on the east coast and on the same ocean!” it was kind of her to ask about my family and if, by choice, you haven’t left the midwest much, save for those all-inclusive-mexican-resort places, those states ‘out there’ might be kind of confusing. it’s a big country. and it’s a big world. it can be safer to stay put, yet, like miniblinds, it might filter out the light.
though the pandemic still has its seesawing challenges, i can feel the tug of backroads and adventures. though cleaning out still has its sentimental obstacles, i can feel the urge of less-is-more. though careful budgeting is always a dominant force, i can feel the itch to freshen things in our home and yard (good grief – that dug-up front yard will be a necessity!). though i feel a little tentative, i can feel the impulse to seek out ways to let creativity bubbles float and fly.
i open the blinds carefully and look outside. the rising sun hits my face and the birds are singing. dogga is by my side, triumphant in helping me open up the house. and i think that today i will make a live-life-my-sweet-potato list. things on either side of the miniblinds. opening up, little by little. to light.
we lit the first candle with the shamash on sunday about a half hour after sundown. and then we lit the first candle on the left. our tiny menorah has a place of distinction on the table in our sunroom. the festival of lights began surrounded by tealights and happy lights and two people wanting to bring more light into the world’s hearts as well as our own. we honored my uncle tony’s family as we lit the candles, read blessings in mispronounced hebrew and sat and gazed silently at our simple newly-purchased menorah. beautiful. a celebration of the right to exist, i read. a time to remember courage, to bring divine light into inky, murky corners. we seek connection to the spiritual universe all around us in manners familiar and unfamiliar to us. on purpose, respectfully, with intention.
joshua davidson, a rabbi in new york city, spoke about his views of “the deep meaning of this year’s hanukkah”. with so much darkness and brokenness in this country he has chosen to ascribe meaning to each of the eight candles he will illumine – “the smallest bit of light to push back the darkness”. he includes: advocates of justice and fairness, black americans, women, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, immigrants around the world, the aged, planet earth and our children.
the rabbi continued, “each of us will identify our own lights — on our menorahs, in our windows, or on our trees. however we celebrate, the act of kindling light can be, if we wish it, an act of illuminating the sparks burning in every human being and all created things. when we learn to look at the world and at others — no matter their color, their ethnicity, their gender, their age, their ability, their faith, their education, their wealth, or their politics — and recognize those sparks; and when we accept our responsibility to make them glow again; then we will have taken a first step toward kindling the light and restoring the hope that will heal our dark and fractured world.”
joshua wrote, “the shamash, the helper candle, will represent me — my power to become better in the new year; and through my own moral growth, my ability to spread light in the moral darkness that surrounds us.”
no matter our choice of religious or non-religious belief system, the black and white of it is that we all have the potential of the shamash. we are all light in the middle of twilight, luminous branches in the middle of darkness, in the middle of early-morning dawn, miraculous sparks of change and growth. it is a season of light.