More than half a lifetime ago, I had a male friend who had just broken up with a girl he dated for many years. He was crushed. He mournfully listened to At This Moment nonstop for months. Around the same time, I had been hurt by a boy who wanted to keep me on the hook, except when he didn’t want to. I wasn’t healed enough to move on, and neither was my brokenhearted friend. But our collective friends didn’t get that. They wanted to do “partner” things, and that was too much for us to bear. So we did lonely sorrowful things together. We went and sat on the beach in silence – which is what both of us needed. We’d drink hot chocolate in the dark, and in the shadows cast by moonlight, we learned to move on with our lives. I don’t know what my friend thought about, as we sat there, but I considered how blue everything looked when it was dark. The sand, the peaks of light on the waves before they lapped up on the beach… all blue. Before I went away to university, my friend gave me a small charm of the moon and while I’ve lost touch with my friend, I still have that charm. Sometimes it surfaces and I look at the little octagon box it’s in, and I think about the blue of the shadows of the moon.
Now, I can tell you that the cone cells in our eyes, and the wavelengths of light they can perceive, are what makes everything blue in the dark. But then, it didn’t matter. There was blue, and there was shadow, and it was soothing to a broken heart.
When we lived in the Ottawa Valley our street was dark. No really. No streetlights for miles kind of dark. I used to like being outside on dark nights when you could see the whole of the Milky Way. Stars to navigate by, to help ships find their ways home, to provide a course to follow. Our property was bordered by pasture on two sides, and a cedar hedge on the third. On dark, moonless nights, the light from our porch would extend out into the dark and cast a crisp shadow onto the country road beyond. When I let our dogs out in winter evenings, I loved the way the unsullied snow was purple and diamond-dazzling in the moonlight. I would walk the length of the laneway and along the road to the edge of that shadow. But the shadow it cast held the potential for frightening things, so I didn’t like to pass into the full gloom of that line on the road.
One winter, while we were all out cleaning up after record snowfall, somehow, Child wandered off. The sun was setting and I went in to make dinner. When supper was ready, Mike came in, but Child didn’t. He was out in the dark. The snow was deeper than he was tall and the drifts were at least twice that. There was enough wind that there were no footprints for us to track. He could have been anywhere. He could have fallen through the crusted snow surface anywhere and been injured or unable to get himself out. He could have mistook his direction on a path and ended up at the river. An hour later, we found him, 2 fields over and 2 fields back. He got turned around in a stand of pine trees, and couldn’t find his way out. As it got darker out, he got more frightened (and, truth be told, me too). Eventually, he oriented himself and walked back up the tractor path. My frantic eyes just being able to focus on his dark little silhouette against the purple-bright snow around him, and we pulled him back into safety of the porch light.
Even now, in the light of the city, I watch King Louie of Dogswald disappear into the darkness of our yard. I detect where he is only by the flicker of the solar lights in my garden as he passes in front of them, blocking their pinprick of light for a second as he goes about his royal canine duties. There’s something comforting about the perimeter where my eye’s able, once, again, to make out his wanderings in the dark.
This past weekend, we celebrated the winter solstice – the longest, darkest night of the year; the night nature switches direction. We’re in the midst of Hanukkah, the beautiful festival of light. The celebration of the miracle of when there shouldn’t have been enough oil, yet, there was. Tonight, the RC kids attend midnight mass and sing by candlelight in the darkness of a echoing cold church. In the darkest part of the year, we look for a light. I find myself fumbling sometimes, in the inky black, longing for that blue. There’s a pole star, a cynosure, somewhere, that invites me to where my eyes can once again adjust as the light blooms around me. Brighter days are coming, both figuratively and literally.
A few years back, Pope Francis put a tiny message on his Twitter that stuck with me. “Like the Magi, believers are led by faith to seek God in the most hidden places, knowing that the Lord waits for them there.” When I read that, I thought about Child in the field of pines. God was with him there. As Mike and I were trying to do the turbo speed risk analysis of where to look for Child, God was there, too. God sits with us in the dark, on the beach, healing our wounds. And if you’re not comfortable with Godspeak, call it hope, instead. There’s hope in the flicker of fireflies in urban backyards, and around bonfires with friends, and in the glow of candlelight as you quiet your mind, and in the vast dark sky.
Tonight and always, may we all invite something bigger than ourselves into our hearts and minds. May we be as vulnerable as a child born in a foreign land, and rise to the higher purpose for which we’re intended. For tonight, may we all be a blessing for those around us. When you can be a light, be a light. A candle loses nothing by lighting another flame. From moonlight to stellar light to candle light, may we find the guidance we need on this holy night.
Merry Christmas, friends.
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