If the first electric light was invented in 1800, and scientists estimate the first modern humans appeared around 500,000 years ago; then electricity has been around for roughly .04% of the time humans have.
Let’s imagine we are part of the other 99.96% of human existence, and the dark-dispelling stimuli (lights, radios, TVs, computers, cars, etc.) of the past 200 winters does not exist. It is now that we must have faith: Faith in the pattern of seasons and of love, faith that darkness and death have a rightful place in the sequence of lightness and life.
The winter season, properly observed, seeks to prepare us for death.
If we ignore the example nature offers us, how can we expect to face the inevitability of loss? Is there any greater common desire than to live, and die, with dignity and grace?
When we clear a path through the artificial clutter, now beefed up on commercialized-Christmas steroids, it is possible to reclaim our rightful place in natural reality. Buried under countless, insulating layers is our vulnerable and unadulterated reliance on the natural world. Here the daily increase in darkness can’t help but remind us of that most troubling of all human problems: Mortality.
Is it any wonder why we are all addicted to distraction? The onset of winter makes us even more susceptible, like stampeding black Friday shlemmings (shopper-lemmings), to the frenzied pace of the unfocused. Where has our light gone?
Weren’t we all just drunk off the sun’s liquid gold attention? Our heliotropic faces, with eyes closed in the ultimate expression of trust, turned involuntarily skyward? Didn’t I just marvel over the produce in the Farmer’s market stalls, the juices of a perfectly globular Yakima peach running down my forearm? What are we to make of our lives, when the supple, oceanic undulations of trees are replaced with a skeletal score?
We must connect with each other. There is no other way. We need a communal pact to push through the suspicion that the impending obsolescence of life around us, and of our own lives, is just cause for apathy. For what is apathy but premature death?
I know! Let’s put a tree inside our homes. I know it sounds crazy, but let’s just try it.
The considerable hassle of bringing a tree into our homes befits the quixotic, noble-fir humility of our intent. Though our world appears to be dying, we can bring life inside, to symbolize our beating hearts. We will walk by this life and breathe in its greenness. We will place candles in the windows to fill our eyes with sun. But this will be our sun, and this will be our tree. We will see more trees and candles in other homes, and our joy will multiply. Our shared intention makes it so. The limitation of mortality, observed together and with compassion, provides meaning to life.
A dozen years ago this past October, in a high rise hospital room, a young woman with an unplanned pregnancy was about to give birth. She insisted on playing Christmas music. The doctor and nurses; her mother, husband, and mother-in-law; her two sisters and her cousin (all three of whom are coincidentally pregnant) can attest to this.
I must have known subconsciously then what I am beginning to grasp more fully now. Manifested in the birth of my daughter was the fearful, ponderous, and complex process of life giving way to life.
Hadn’t I just been born? Wasn’t I just a little girl, immersed in daughterhood, running naked through the tall summer grass and into the open embrace of my parents?
I recently received an email from my dad, a devout Christian. To my utter astonishment, he ended with the line: “I feel God’s smile upon you as She lovingly observes you.” To me, these words were so revelatory they brought to mind an anecdote I learned about Susan B. Anthony. When young Susan’s public school teacher refused to teach her long division on account of her gender, her father, Daniel Anthony, opened his own school.
While I am still digesting the transformative properties of my father’s radical expression of love, I feel in his statement the meaning of life, and the audacity of the Christmas tree.
Allow me to leave you, my time traveling companions, with a favorite carol reimagined.
In winter’s loss and love,
O Holy Night
The stars are brightly shining
This is the night of our dear baby’s birth
Long lay the world
In sin and error pining
Till she appeared and my soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees
And hear the mothers’ voices
O night divine
This is the night when Life was born