All our stories this time of year are about light and that’s on purpose, because it gets dark at 3 p.m., because it’s cold and getting colder. My eyelashes froze together walking to the train the other morning, and I’ve already lost a pair of gloves. We’re burning every candle we have, we burn the fire morning noon and night, but the cold burns too.
So we tell stories. A baby born in poverty, his parents very nearly at the end of their wits, desperate enough to lay him down in a stable. Burning an hour’s fuel for a week, while defeat and death howled around the walls. Solstice, stillness, a millisecond’s turn toward warmth again. Ascendance, overcoming, breaking through the hard crust of the world when everything is black and gray.
A week ago I sat at the bedside of someone I loved, listening to a respirator hiss. I read from All The Light We Cannot See, because there was nothing else to do. I re-read familiar books at this time of year, and they’re all stories of what happens when even hope is exhausted. When all you have is momentum. When, even falling, there is enough left in you to fall forward.
I’m so tired. I know you are, too.
I’ve been saying it since Nov. 9 and I mean it: It’s our job now to save as many as we can. That’s all we’ve got. But that’s all we’ve ever had. The poor family with their baby in the horse’s stall, they weren’t thinking about eternal life, about remaking the world in the image of God. They wanted their baby to live. These stories come from a time when more children died in the winter than survived, when you had 10 children and raised six. No one is ever thinking about glory.
So be it resolved that if we are merry this year — and I don’t grant we are — it’s not an act of reckless abandon or naive optimism but of deliberate falling forward, of momentum enough to land in front of where we started. Save who’s in front of you, next year. Save as much as you can. Don’t worry that you’re not doing enough or that the job’s too big. Reach out as much as you can. Ask for help, if you can’t.
It’s only in hindsight that we turn the darkness into a story, into what came before the light. It’s only afterward, when we can put it in order, that we see the blackness as temporary.
In the midst of it, when we don’t know the light is coming, how do we act?