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Don't Let The Light Go Out

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Carol Bossard

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Turkeys can now relax; their season is over while we humans have stepped from November (Thanksgiving) into December (Christmas) with hardly a moment of transition.  We are one week into Advent; hanging of the greens at church occurred this past Sunday.  For nearly all faiths, this is the Season of Lights.  Pagan holidays emphasized light because December brings the longest nights of the year, and asking the gods to send the sun’s light again seemed a survival necessity.  The Jewish Chanukah celebrates the story of lights (oil lamps) burning way past their expiration time, saving an entire branch of humanity from tyranny, briefly anyway.  And, of course, Christmas begins with a very bright star leading to a Light that fills the lives of those who follow.  It is the season of trimmed trees, lighted candles and outdoor displays.  Peter, Paul and Mary sang a soul-stirring song, probably for Chanukah, but it works for all of us.   Don’t Let The Light Go Out……….Let it shine through our love and our teas….. Oh no don’t let the Light go out, It’s lasted for so many years; don’t let the light go out…..DON’T Let The Light Go OUT!!”  In a time when there is so much darkness in the world, we need to be carrying lights for those who can’t ------ or won’t.

As temperatures drop here in the northeast and snow comes and goes, we can no longer put off the season of boots, mittens and heavier coats.  (Is that snickering I’m hearing from those of you in Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, So. Carolina and California?)  Mornings here are frosty but energizing, and a cup of tea begins my day well.  Hopefully our intrusive black bears are all sleeping cozily some place distant from our back yard.  We’ve finally put out the suet as well as bird seed and would prefer no destroyed feeders.  Kerm has mended them multiple times this summer and fall; bears, raccoons and squirrels damage them, sometimes more than once/season.  I understand that they, too, are hungry, but they have absolutely NO manners!   Chickadees, nuthatches tufted titmice are all bouncing around the feeders with their usual quick energy.  They, and the woodpeckers, seem grateful for the added suet.

It is time to transfer pumpkins from the porch to the lawn, for benefit of turkeys and deer.  We’ll be replacing them on the porch, with snowmen and wraths.  Our holiday preparations are less strenuous than they were a decade or so ago.  We’ve simplified and pared, and use only the things most important to us and that we really enjoy.  We’ve ordered our evergreen wreath from the school FFA group, also a poinsettia.  We cleaned out our tubs of decorations a couple of years ago, giving away things we didn’t find useful anymore.  There was a time when all the exhaustive preparation for Christmas was fun.  Now we’d just be exhausted, which seems both irreverent and foolish.  We have grown to find the small, happy things around us enough.  Of course, we keep the decorations that have meaning; the stable that Kerm constructed, layering the roof carefully with full-length straws gleaned from an Amish oat field, the ceramic Christmas tree given to us by a 4-H leader who made it herself, the wreath our granddaughter created for us a few years ago.  Our tree ornaments range from the Shiny Brites my mother and dad had on our tree at home to ones we’ve collected and lovely ones given to us by family and friends.  Less stress and more warm  times would be our current motto.

This coming weekend we’ll be enjoying the community chorus from a neighboring village.  They will come to our church to present their music and also do a and carol-sing; a fine way to begin December.  At 7:00, on Sunday evening, we gather to hear music that they’ve been preparing for weeks and in between their songs, we get to sing Christmas carols.  We are a singing community!  Afterward (probably why the group is glad to come here) we have a magnificent spread of cookies and other finger foods.   

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Music at Christmas time is one of my special joys.  I play seasonal CDs during the day, as well as in the evening.  We have a stash of the usual Christmas carols that everyone knows, but we also enjoy some English madrigals, some classical music like Handel’s Messiah, and Christmas folk songs that aren’t so familiar.  One of my favorites is “The Huron Carol” written as a Native American version of the Christmas story.  Music is such a mood-changer.  I can put on a CD and be immediately brightened --- or elated ---- or relaxed ---- all depending on the music.   I’ve even begun practicing a bit on my flute.  When arthritis began stiffening my neck, flute-playing became painful, but I’ve missed it, so am working on it a bit at a time.

Learning to relax, especially in a busy season, continues to be a work in progress.  I think our attitudes toward busyness may begin way back in childhood.  Tutu Mora** says that “Feeling the need to be busy all the time is a trauma response and fear-based distraction from what we’d be forced to acknowledge and feel if we slowed down.”  Perhaps!  I also think there is a fine line between teaching one’s children to work up to their abilities and forge ahead ---- and over-emphasizing the work ethic to the point where relaxation and leisure sound like dirty words.  I think those of us who grew up on farms or in some other family business, have been impressed with the immediacy of tasks and have difficulty in slowing our pace even when there’s no longer a need for pushing.  As a result, we often end up (as we age) with tense and painful necks and shoulders, with a feeling of dis-ease when we sit doing nothing and with a monkey-mind that skitters and whirls when we are attempting a quiet time.  Whatever the source, we too often cross that line where being busy has become a way of life for us; a morally good way to live.  And we have forgotten the benefits of time spent in just being.

I recently listened to a series of podcasts on Aging --- which I may share more in depth in another essay.  But one thing, offered by a Harvard professor, particularly impressed me.  He said that as one ages, life can be better and quite wonderful, but for that to happen, we must change our perspective on what we should be doing.  His advice was, every day to include a time for walking (in whatever sense our body allows that -- might be Chair Yoga or stretching if actual walking is impossible), a time for learning something new----reading, a podcast or a class, and a time of holding the wider world up for our conscious concern ---- praying or at least thoughtful consideration.  In short, live in such a balanced way that our health and well-being is as important to us as our accomplishments.

As we look ahead to the next few weeks, instead of allowing ourselves to become hassled, over-worked and exhausted, perhaps we could try this little formula.  Maybe start out by doing each of those things for ½ hour.  That is only one and a half hours out of the twenty-four we have, to work on easing and enriching our lives.   That would be a fine way to fill December with the peace, radiance and love suggested by the occasions we celebrate.   

I found this poem by Brother David Steindl-Rast***.  I had read one of his books (Music of Silence) and enjoyed it in small bites at a time.  This poem speaks to us about quiet --- about conscious awareness of the world around us ----- about finding peace in small things.

“May I grow still enough to hear the small noises the earth makes in preparing for the long sleep of winter. So that you, yourself, may grow calm and grounded deep within.

May you grow still enough to hear the trickling of water seeping into the ground, so that your soul may be softened and healed, and guided in its flow.

May you grow still enough to hear the splintering of starlight in the winter sky and the roar at earth’s fiery core.

May you grow still enough to hear the stir of a single snowflake in the air, so that your inner silence may turn into hushed expectation.”

It takes conscious awareness and determination to keep our inner lights glowing, especially in such a complicated time. Whenever I hear “Don’t Let The Light Go Out” I realize the song hold as much relevance today as it was whenever Peter, Paul and Mary recorded it.  This dark world needs all the light and LIGHT it can get.  If we allow ourselves to be nourished by the creation around us, by time spent in good relationships and caring, we will be Light-Bearers for whatever part of the world is ours.  It is good for us and good for whatever part of the world is in our venue, to make the darkness less.

 

Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net.

*Peter, Paul and Mary” --- a folk and activist trio from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s-

**Tutu Mora –Tutu (Dorothy) Mora is a breath-work facilitator and also a certified instructor in Qigong and Pilates.

***Brother David Steindl-Rast --- Born in Austria in 1926.  He became a Benedictine brother who has degrees in theology, philosophy and fine arts.  He is known for his work with interfaith dialogue and connecting spirituality and science.

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