Last night, I joined a bunch of friends from church and went caroling around the neighborhood. We started out almost 30 strong, with four generations represented; a toddler in a stroller, younger adults with and without spouses, their parents, some grandparents. We visited some of our dear oldies, people who have aged out of active participation in beloved seasonal traditions. They are quieter people now, yet most of them still maintain their sparkle and kindness. Poignant, sweet memories and stories shared, favorite songs sung, lots of hugs, a few tears shed.
We visited assisted living and skilled nursing facilities, where more hugs were exchanged, and a few more tears were shed, mostly happy, some bittersweet. People who have outlived family and friends sometimes weep for what they’ve lost as well as for the happiness of a sweet moment. There were joyful hugs and pats for the cheerful toddler, armed with jingle bells and excited to learn what happened when bells are plunged into deep puddles. A year ago, he was diagnosed with a rare cancer that starts in the eyes. Today, he is thriving and the cancer is in check, all but gone. We who have been praying for this adorable person kept looking over at him with awe and delight, our own Solstice miracle; light returning to eyes once clouded, now clear.
As we meandered from apartment to house, there were careful, tender hugs for frail oldies who seem like fallen leaves waiting for a wind. There were fond friendly hugs, compassionate, teary hugs, hugs shared with laughter. I keep thinking about the way one ancient looking woman wrapped her arms around me and drew my head close to hers, then said, “Who am I? Who are you? Why are you singing to us?” While I explained, she gave me a long, lingering embrace, her body collapsed into softness, her spirit kind and sweet. She didn’t care that we had never met and didn’t know each other’s names. Her smile filled her face and spilled from her eyes. I can still feel the sweetness of that soft old body, that soft embrace, and hope I’ll be as full of light when I’m truly old.
The sweet incident reminded me of my mom, who, toward the end, would wake in the night and say, “Am I dead?” When I’d say no, she’d ask, “Are you dead?” When I’d again say no, she’d add, “Well, then, can I have some coffee?” That still makes me smile and I cherish it as one of the brighter memories I have of my mother. One a few years have worn away the sharp edges of pain and grief and loss, there’s increasing sweetness in recalling our lost ones. For many years, we’ve set an extra place at each holiday table, with a candle on the plate. Sometimes we put pictures or cards on the plate as well, but by my time of life, the plate can get pretty crowded. Now I just let the candle be a symbol of all the losses of the years. As I’m aging, I’m finding more sweetness in the sorrow, more acceptance of the pattern of life and death, of gain and loss, and a clearer understanding that I am drawing closer to my exit with every passing year.
Our last stop of the evening was at the fire station. By then, our group had dwindled to a mere dozen or so, but we attempted to serenade our much appreciated first responders with joy. It’s an old island tradition for the fire department to circle the island during the long winter holiday nights with a fire truck, blaring out seasonal music for the neighborhoods through squawky old speakers. Back when my kids were little, they mainly played corny old secular Christmas selections, from Rudolf and Frosty to chestnuts by Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. These days, the playlist and the speakers have been upgraded and there are so many more street and houses that it takes several long nights to get to everyone.
As it happened, only one fellow was at the station when we arrived, as everyone else was out on calls. We sang to him anyway, and as we were leaving, I was moved to receive yet anther huge hug. He asked me how I was doing and said he was counting on a better year coming for us all. He had come with others to pick my mom off the floor countless times, and he had been among those who tried to resuscitate my late husband. We’d met at various bedsides where help was needed and we rode together in aid cars more than once, taking someone to meet an ambulance. I was touched that he remembered me fondly, as I certainly remember him an the many others who show up for us when we need help.
Open To The Light
Today, I’m finishing up a stocking for a friend’s transgender teenager who found the old name on her stocking disturbing. Not sure how to fix it, I took the stocking to our little local fabric store (the longest running fabric store in Washington State). A very kind employee ironed backing onto a piece of cloth, then used her own cutting machine to cut out letters of the right size. She then helped me iron the name onto another piece of cloth to cover up the old name. I got it home, sewed down the letters, measured the strip and promptly cut it the wrong size. Unusually, I didn’t get upset, but calmly sewed little strips of cloth at each end so the name patch fit the stocking. Sewed over the old name, the new name looks as good as new. Another sweetness to taste.
I’m deliberately calling out sweetness in every possible situation these days. In these dark and bitter times, we all need the refreshment of sweetness and light. When I savor the sweet moments, pleasant connections, kind actions, cheerful exchanges, generous impulses, friendly greetings, beautiful sunsets, happy birds, joyful children, lovely music, pretty lights, delicious food, warm words, embracing hugs, I feel myself filling up with all that natural sweetness and light. When our minds are open, the light can come in. When our hearts are broken, the light gets in even better. Let us be light.