As you may know, I spent five odd years, very odd years, perhaps, writing a column for the Calgary Herald. It was a very rewarding experience and allowed me to think, at least, that I had a kind of dialogue going on with the entire city.
I toyed with the idea of collecting some of the almost 300 columns I wrote for the Herald into a book. That still may happen someday. But for now, because I have this blog, I at least have the opportunity to share some of the columns with anyone who might be interested.
One of the advantages of this format is that I can include files from other media, so at the end of this column, I have (hopefully) provided a link to hear a lovely rendition of this song by Loreena McKennitt.
This column was originally published in the Calgary Herald around Christmas Day, 2007. I think the idea of lighting candles this time of year still holds true.
Some things hold true, I guess, while others change. I shall miss my daughter, Hanna, this year who is in far away Portugal, and yet I know she’s safe and happy so what more could I ask for?
But as we like to say, it’s all good. We shall muddle on through, somehow.
The Bleak Mid-Winter
December 23, 2007
I ran into an old friend earlier this week in the produce section of the down town Coop. Where else do I ever run into my old friends? I seem to spend a lot of time there. Well, I don’t bowl, so where else would I rather be?
I was there because I was in need of some carrots. I have a some kind of rabbit-like creature living in my back yard. At first I thought it was a big deal, and that maybe Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny had got their wires crossed. I’ve since learned that almost everyone has a rabbit in their yard.
It’s an infestation, they say. They’re a nuisance, I’m told. Still, I kind of like my bunny rabbit and though he’s obviously managed to grow into a rather large adult rabbit without my help, now that he’s come into my life, I feel a sense if responsibility toward his well- being. It’s cold out there, the ground is frozen. It’s amazing he’s managed to survive at all.
My only experience with rabbits comes from countless viewings of The Bugs Bunny Show, so I was in the produce section at Coop buying some carrots. I’ve given my rabbit the very unimaginative name of Jack. Every time I see him I ask, “What’s up, Doc?” I assume that carrots are his favourite food.
I was anxious to get home with my carrots for Jack when I ran into my friend. What a year she’s had! She came home from work one day a few months ago, looking forward to a quiet evening at home, a nice meal, a little TV perhaps, and her husband told her he was leaving. Just like that. Out of the blue.
She hadn’t seen it coming. None of us who knew them had seen it coming. It just goes to show you that you never know for sure what another person is thinking.
I probably don’t need to say (but I will anyway) that this is just the very worst time of year to be dealing with something like a divorce. Or the loss of a loved one. Or anything of a serious nature. The expectations of the season to be happy, to be jolly, to be merry and bright are so great that any deviation from out and out glassy-eyed ecstacy seems almost sinful.
“It’s the hap-happiest time of the year.”
Or at least we try to make it so.
In fact, it is the deepest darkest morning of the year as I write this. Out of a sense of desire to kindle some Christmas spirit I light a few candles on my mantle. There is something about this simple ritual that must hearken me back to my ancient ancestors toughing it out in the bleak mid-winter. When light was scarce to the point of being sacred.
This need for light was tied in with the winter solstice and became a pagan ritual marking the winter solstice. The miracle of light, and of warmth, “While the earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone, Snow had fallen, snow on snow . . .”
This same light, embodied in these flickering flames, was of course integrated in Christian rituals as it had been in Jewish ones.
This light that comes at the darkest time of the year, symbolizing the fragile hope that the darkness, internal and external, will not last forever.
We see these little flickering lights everywhere this time of year. I have mine on my mantle and will wrap stylized ones around my Christmas tree if I ever manage to get the blessed thing up.
Each of us sees different things in the same flame, I suppose.
Even living in a prosperous place as we do, with the boom holding for another year anyway, human existence – being human – is not an easy proposition.
Husbands will always leave wives. And wives will leave husbands. Hearts will be broken and plans dashed. Fortunes lost and bills called in.
All we can look for in those little flames is some glimmer of hope that our hearts will heal and we will find joy and peace again, even in the darkest hours.
As the old saying goes, it’s better to light one little flame than to curse the darkness.
And as it says in my favourite carol, “Truth and love and hope abide, this Christmastide.”
I hope that Santa or the Easter Bunny or whoever is responsible for it finds your house and leaves something lovely under your tree this year.
From my home to yours, Merry Christmas.