Driving Back the Dark

Today I cried in the car. Coming home from a little shopping trip with my husband. Now, to be fair, I’ve been sort of a hot mess all day, I don’t know why. I’m having a raw day, one of those where everything is by turns deeply moving or deeply annoying.

But anyway. We were riding in the car, Casey has just discovered and fallen deeply, madly, irredeemably in love with iheart radio, so he was playing with his phone and just sort of being there, like he is so good at doing; just lending his very solid presence to me. A man was walking through the scrubby grass and dead foliage on the corner of Pontaluna and Harvey. He was carrying three or four backpacks, he had a beard. And he had a sign strapped to his side. I couldn’t see what it said, but I had a pretty good idea. As we slowed for the red light Casey took his wallet from the glove box. He reached inside, he pulled out a few one dollar bills. He rolled down his window and called, brother! The man started to run.

He jogged up to the car, mindful of the soon to turn light, the heavy traffic. He took the bills from my husband and he said, God bless you. And the light turned green and we drove away and I found myself leaking tears. My brother says that advent hits him differently every year, and not always in a comfortable way; not usually in a comfortable way. I am almost through my third season of advent, and I think I am finally grasping what it means, finally seeing what it is for me.

Messages, love notes,  wrapped in lumpy paper with drooping bows and tape peeling up and dirty at the edges, but messages nonetheless. The first two seasons were a novelty, now we get to the real meat of the season.

Because it isn’t about lighting the correctly colored candle in my mess free (not really) advent wreath each Sunday night.

Because it isn’t about buying gifts and worrying about buying gifts and have we bought enough gifts? Because what it is about is examining my heart, mining the deepest and darkest places, hoping for a shaft of light. Knowing that soon, very soon, the stones will be rolled back from the caved in entrances and light will shine forth once more. Because it is about seeing the beauty and the brokenness and the sadness. And longing for change, longing to be change, a vessel, a truth, a good news.

And in that longing, to realize that my own love is imperfect, my heart imperfect. But realizing also that there are small things that I can do to push that window open a bit further, to make my candle burn a bit brighter, to light up the dark and shadowy places in my own heart, and in the world.

Like giving three dollars to a man who hadn’t had a chance to even ask for it yet.

There is this longing today, a longing to go backward, to have another go, to try this whole thing again. There is a longing today for my mother, a realization that she has not endured experienced the hot and steamy and over packed and loud living room at her mother’s house on Christmas Eve in many years. There is a longing to go back to that, all of those times I should have gone to Grandma’s and didn’t. Because now it’s gone. The big house, the 15 foot tree, the small gifts for each and every one of us, the potluck food and the Vernors and the visiting dogs and the roaring fireplace beneath the photo of my grandparents when they were very young and beautiful, when hope shone from their eyes. The banging notes of a grandchild “playing” the piano in the basement rec room, the plays we cousins thought up and performed, the swinging saloon doors into her kitchen where one could see the malevolent eye of the water tower across the field from her kitchen window.

It’s all gone. And I can’t go back.

So advent is about finding a way forward, a way through.

I was touched this week to read a short note written by a woman named Hiba. She writes of being a woman and being Pakistani and being Muslim. She writes of her horror and her sorrow at the news of the more than 130 children lost at their school in Peshawar last week. She says that the terrorists win when we believe, and tell our children, that all the world is darkness.

And so, advent is about lighting a candle to drive the darkness back. Fighting with all that is within us to push back the night, wishing for change, for peace, for a pale and opalescent dawn to break.

I guess it’s also about having raw, raw days. Where you feel everything so closely, so intimately. I am waiting for so many things. For news of a child, for Christmas Eve church services and the ham I know my mother in law will prepare on Christmas Day with her ham gravy. But I am also waiting for change, waiting for light.

And it’s coming, closer all the time, change, and light, are coming.  And I will continue to shine, even through my tears, even though sometimes the light is so bright I fear it will incinerate me, leaving nothing but a pile of ashes. I will sing to brighten the dark corners, I will give hope and good news to those who are longing for a kind word or a hot meal.

The solstice is this Sunday, fitting really, the days will get longer, summer will return with her green cape studded with roses and daisies, leaving a warm breeze in her wake.

But for now the nights are long and dark and cold, and we are waiting for a little baby who was born in a barn. Who was the savior of the world and yet covered with the mess of after birth and blood, yearning for a breast, shivering in the cold. Funny where we find grace, isn’t it? An old man with too many backpacks and a card board sign, and a mewling infant surrounded by animals and a host of angels singing.


A thrill of hope

A weary world rejoices

For yonder breaks A new and glorious morn


Happy Christmas all. ❤


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