friendship, giving

Longest Night

When became an adult, got married, moved into a house and had kids (not necessarily in that order), I joined a Methodist church. I was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic school, so this was a big change. One of the first new traditions I embraced was the Longest Night. Each year, on Winter Solstice, the Methodist church had a service that focused on the darker times of the past year. People came who had experienced loss, depression. grief.

At that point, I had recently lost my mother. I had a new baby, a new home, and was overwhelmed and heavy-hearted. I joined the bell choir and played for that service. That first year, I remember just crying through the whole thing.

As you can imagine, the service is not just about loss. Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year. Once Solstice is over, brighter days are literally ahead. So the service is also about finding hope. About persistence. About the triumph of good and light.

I love symbolism so this service always meant a lot to me. I like the idea of things getting better. Of marking time. The cycle of increasing light. And it always comes just before Christmas, a time of frantic preparation. It is a moment to just be still and reflect.

I don’t attend that church these days, but I still take time to reflect every Solstice and remind myself that lighter days are ahead.

This year the Solstice seemed both especially poignant and especially necessary. COVID has wreaked havoc on many lives. So many in my circle have lost loved ones this year. Some due to COVID, others for other natural reasons, but COVID took away our ability to gather and mourn in the way we all want and need to. Still others are hunkered down at home to protect themselves and loved ones, which brings all the pain and challenge of isolation, disruption of routine, and more.

It has just been a heavy year.

I started hearing about the “Christmas Star” (or Great Conjunction) a few weeks before Solstice. Again, the symbolism of Solstice, this unique astronomical happening, and the stars were literally aligned.

I also had it in my mind to go caroling this year. I say every year I want to sing for people more (and not just the poor people at the gym who have to hear me sing along to the soundtrack when I’m squatting). I don’t know why I expect opportunities to be a backup singer for Yacht Rock Revue to fall out of the sky. This Solstice I see I need to create those opportunities.

Who could I bring some light to? We decided to visit two special Moms who have had challenging years, each in their own ways.

I loaded my car and started the night by going out to see the Christmas Star. I went to a parking lot in a remote park about 15 minutes from my house. I was surprised to find about 25 other cars in the lot, all there to view this planetary wonder. I just took some time to quietly look and think about this year and its gifts.

Then, it was over the river and through the woods to the first grandmother’s house. A couple of friends and family members joined in. We dressed silly, I brought my sleigh bells and song books, and off we set to spread some cheer. Our living room concerts brought laughter and tears, smiles and singing along. We took requests. We flubbed the lyrics and stumbled over melodies. We jingled our bells, giggled, swayed and twinkled. In the end, we brought cheer and good tidings and light. On the way to grandmother two’s house we saw lights and so many other holiday sights.

Both these women have lived through this challenging year. They’ve made the most of it. I hope we brought some light and hope to their lives this December. I know their smiles and delight lifted me up. As one of them put it, when we said our goodbyes, “same time next year!”

It’s a date.

family

9-11 or 911 or…

As the days approach 9/11 I reflect back on this date for many reasons. For me, my reasons are nothing like those who lost loved ones that day many years ago and I acknowledge that. 

What I do get to think about is what I was doing on that day, who was with me and where I was at that stage of life. How the world seemed at a standstill after that event shattered the world. Similar to the blank state of mind where we have been stuck with Corona of late.

My parents were visiting for my middle child’s 1st birthday all those years ago. Unable to fly home due to the safety concerns. Almost 20 years later and more turmoil in the world. Again flights are limited or not recommended. Another date I’m missing my dad that I had with me in that memorable time but not today.

My son’s first birthday. How far he is from that pure innocent child at such a ripe age. Now a maturing adult navigating life in such a complex world. Not realizing he lived through 9/11. Twisting around looking at my daughter who wasn’t even born yet. She doesn’t even recognize the magnitude of 9/11. She has toured the area in NYC but still lacks the depth of my experience on that same day. Just interesting to think about.

When I titled this article 9/11 or 911 I did it accidentally but then wondered if there was a coincidence that the date 9/11 was chosen due to the significance of 911 or emergency call in our society? Maybe that’s a dumb question but honestly it’s the first time it hit me front and center. I’m sure the backstory is in one of the documentaries but I hadn’t really acknowledged that point until now. Almost 20 years later.

Maybe I have always thought of this date in different ways and didn’t notice that coincidence. What do you remember about this date? How are you impacted when the date surfaces each year? Do you see any similarities to the pandemic of today? Just a food for thought post. Looking back almost 20 years to see how the world has changed and how much people in your life evolve in such time. 

family

A Cast From the Past

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Sometimes you run across a piece of paper that stops you in your tracks.

I was going through some boxes of old family “stuff” when I found a large old brown envelope of sympathy cards.  After sifting through several of them, I realized they were cards sent to my maternal grandmother when my grandfather, her husband, passed away.

Holding those cards transported me back to when I was about 6 or 7 years old.  He was the first person that I can remember dying.   I recall I had a solo singing Jingle Bell Rock in my school first grade Christmas program. I wore a green dress with candy canes on the bib and a white blouse with a scalloped collar.  I remember my mother wasn’t there to see me sing.  At that age, I couldn’t really understand what was happening.  Why my mom sat slumped over on the bed, her back to me, sobbing.

All I knew was my mother wasn’t there to see me sing.

Flipping through the cards now. So many beautiful cards, most simply finished with a signature. Names I didn’t know. People who loved and remembered.

Then, a different kind of card.  No lilies or angels or cursive sympathies.  Flat. Engraved with black letters. Someone had given a book to a library as a way to honor my grandfather’s death.  And it was a book about fishing.

It was a full circle moment for a couple of reasons.  First, I am a librarian.  So a book memorial has special meaning for me.  And then, my daughter, Dianne, who bears the name of my mother, loves fishing.  So knowing there is a book out there, in a library somewhere, all about fishing, to honor my granddad felt both sublime and bittersweet.

Finding that card was like a cord running through generations. A moment of connection with a long distant past. I had no idea my grandfather loved fishing, even though he lived a stone’s throw from Lake Chautauqua.  It was a smile down from a man lost decades ago as well as his daughter, to me and my own daughter who shares her name.

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