It is mid-January and more light is coming through the tunnels of our winter days. The Christmas tree is out beneath the lilac, giving the birds another refuge from the always interested cats and hopeful hawks. The manger scene on the kitchen buffet and all the cool little animals have been carefully wrapped in tissue and packed away for another year. Hopefully, the wonder of this world-changing event more than 2000 years ago, doesn’t also get put away, but remains with us to light our days! The snow babies are back in their bubble wrap leaving the piano top free for family photographs once again. However, the glass snowflakes still hang in the porch windows, giving us some sparkle whenever the sun shines through them. One faceted silver ball remains; when the sun hits this ball, it puts sunny spots on my living room ceiling and makes me smile. And, of course, the “winter lights” running the length of the driveway will continue to brighten the nights until March.
We had a lovely holiday season although we regret the absence of the before-COVID opportunities for concerts. Cornell’s Twilight concert was one I have enjoyed in the past. We did catch an S-VE middle-school event that was streamed on Face Book --- a glimpse of our very talented young people who are discovering all the fun and magic of music. After playing several numbers together, I liked the way each group of instruments was featured separately. We also enjoyed, via PBS, the annual New Year’s Day concert from Vienna. The hall in which they play is full of history and elegance; the music and dancing are stellar.
Christmas Eve at church turned out to be a very lovely service interwoven with a comedy of errors. We arrived to discover that the church had no heat. Exploration of the furnace room discovered the need for a new motor in one furnace and I guess the other furnace was supporting its co-worker in the shut-down strike. Fortunately, it was a mild winter evening, so the sanctuary wasn’t actually frigid nor were our teeth chattering. No one dozed off, though! About fifteen minutes into the service, the organist’s hands came down on the keys and nothing --- nada --- emerged from the rows and rows of pipes. David and Kerm were going hither and yon again, trying to discover its ailment. However, a service must go on, so carols and a complicated accompaniment for trumpets were skillfully, and from necessity, performed on the electric keyboard, which continued working amid the general strike. Toward the end of the service, with the current restored to the organ it was time for “Silent Night” and candle-lighting. One more small glitch came when the wall lamps wouldn’t go out. Eventually, the right combination of switches was found and darkness surrounded us until our candles, kindled one by one, brought back reassuring light. Our pastor is quick-thinking and lost no time in reminding us that a barn in Bethlehem was probably chilly, that babies are born regardless of circumstances and that Christmas is much larger than anything else that might be happening ---- or not happening. We really had no trouble in finding the service speaking truth to us as it always has, but with a little unexpected humor as seasoning.
Things that go wrong often leave us with memorable object-lessons and certainly with good stories for the years ahead. A bit of discomfort wakes us up! There was the year a candle set someone’s hair afire……there was the year a youngster explained exactly how the baby Jesus was born…………the year a small costumed “lamb” stole the show by escaping……..there’s always a story.
Our story continues too. Our sons and their families were here for Christmas --- 8 people and 3 dogs. Gifts were lovely and appreciated but even better was the flow of good conversation amid large dogs trying to sit on laps and the dog who was confined to the upstairs whining pitifully. In earlier days, when we spent Christmases with our larger extended families (20 people or more), there used to be board games and card games --- pinochle with Kerm’s family (his Grandma Storm taught us to play triple-deck pinochle and we’ve never recovered.); euchre with mine (mostly my noisy brothers and nephews). I remember one Monopoly game with Kerm’s family that went on for two days --- same game! The flailing canine tails of 2021 would make table games hazardous. We are grateful for the times we had back then and love these slightly smaller celebrations we have now. Our granddaughters --- now nearly adults ---- were able to stay for a few days after Christmas, which was a gift itself. I love seeing how capable they are becoming in their own ways, their sense of style, and their kindness to the world around them.
We have had a lot of teens in our homes over the years ----- 4-H groups, church groups ---and just friends. No one likes to be preached to, but if I could share something with teenagers in general, besides the required cookies, it would be to trust the process of becoming. Given time, patience and love, teens will almost always morph into admirable adults. It is rather like a newly-hatched butterfly fanning its wings for a very long time, building strength before attempting to fly. If, for some reason trauma or ill-chosen friends urge them to fly before the wings have developed, they could become impaled on a thorn bush or the prey of a predator. So, taking time is a good thing. I’d like to tell them that there is so much beyond Middle school and High school. Teens are often highly-anxious. Sometimes they are inoculated with this by driven parents, but I think much of it comes naturally. We humans keep comparing ourselves with others and teens are especially prone to doing this. “Fitting in” becomes very important. But we are created to be unique individuals whose special gifts will benefit the world in some way. Trying to be like someone else is to negate the one-time-only human art we should be. I saw this little quip somewhere --- “Be yourself; everyone else is taken!” The best advice ever! This is not to say mentors aren’t good; they surely are. There are people who’ve been in my life and people in my life now, who I admire and from whom I learn valuable things. But each of them is who they are, and I am me. And that is as it should be.
In this shiny new year, there are some things I’d really like to do. 1) I’d like to have more days/evenings of conversation and laughter. I’d like for people to stash those hand-held, addictive phones for a while, and have eyes looking into other eyes as we share thoughts, dreams and funny happenings. 2) I’d like to consciously spend more time outside. We live in a beautiful area --- this Finger Lakes region ---- and specifically, I live at the foot of a forested hill full of interesting flora and fauna. Something I read recently which I think is a revised version of what John Wesley’s mother said about prayer ----- “Everyone should spend 20 minutes/day in nature. If a person is really busy, spend an hour.” It is assuredly true of prayer, and I think true of time in nature. I will try to spend more twilights in a lawn chair, listening for a hermit thrush or perhaps sit at the end of Seneca Lake, watching the boats and the ducks. 3) I’d like to finish two rather personal bits of writing I have sitting in folders ---- “Grandma’s Kitchen” (a book of family recipes and stories featuring my mother’s kitchen) and “My Little Book of Theology” (a collection of things that feed my spiritual life). 4) I’d like to consciously shed some of the baggage that seems to accompany me daily and keeps me from relaxing my shoulders - ---or at least that’s what the chiropractor says. That baggage is composed of anxiety, worry and trying to carry the fate of the world (my small part of the world) on those same shoulders. I know I’m not the only one weighted down by this inadvertent and unwholesome load; I think the world might well spin on its way even if we worriers allowed ourselves to be at ease. 5) I want more sitting around campfires and 6) more singing. Both spread happiness.
Meanwhile, there are small bits of gladness amid the chilly breezes that are shaking the wind chimes and ruffling feathers on the birds at the feeders. Chickadees, those little creatures of good cheer, are bopping from feeder to lilac, chattering as though at an after-church social hour. The bright crimson of the cardinals adds color to the winter landscape. They are much more dignified than the merry chickadees; they very gravely take a sunflower seed and offer it to their mates ---- sometimes. Good manners -----sometimes! And the ever-present mourning doves clean up the seed on the ground left by the early-rising turkeys. A couple of deer have been coming down at dusk to see what they can find around the feeders and on really cold days, I share some apples with them.
I hope you are finding interests both inside and outside your windows this January. As Hal Borland* says, “Now comes the long haul up the cold slope between now and April.” We can at least take time to enjoy the scenery on the way. In our area of gray skies, we rejoice when the sun shines. If you are in a warmer spot this winter, take note of the creatures that the tropics bring you (I envy the friends who have sand hill cranes in their back yard), wiggle your toes in the warm grass and soak in the more frequent sunshine. A good January to you!!
Carol may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Hal Borland --- American naturalist, journalist and author. 1900-1978.