Good-Talking Candles

I thought I wanted to write something about the budget reconciliation process, but I’ve been feeling sad these last few days:  sad because a dear friend lost her mom on Friday, sad because that dear friend and her youngest son and her husband have COVID-19 and it involved a hospital stay, sad that 500,000 people have died from this disease, and sad that we have no organized communal mourning with its permission to just exist in the ever-present grief.

Every year I drag my feet when it comes to taking down our Christmas decorations. I don’t really do a lot of decorating, but I do fill the house with lights. This year I lit some new areas and turned down the regular lighting. The ambient light was both comfortable and cheering, like having “good talking candles” all around a la Richard Brautigan:

I had a good-talking candle last night in my bedroom.

I was very tired but I wanted somebody to be with me,

so I lit a candle

and listened to its comfortable voice of light until I was asleep.

I dreaded having to put everything away so to motivate myself I began to explore options for adding soft light to the rooms and I found a set of origami boxes attached to string lights and they are now haphazardly on the fireplace mantel. They need to be more artistically arranged, but the soft warm light is providing badly-needed comfort.

The Biden/Harris inaugural COVID-19 remembrance at the Lincoln Memorial was a stunning use of soft-talking candles (albeit ersatz). The darkness invited you to be contemplative, the lights provided comfort, and the Reflecting Pool doubled the light and made it move. It was inviting and beautiful, but most of all it was quiet.

The last 4 years have not been quiet. They were not designed for contemplation or healing. They were meant to assault your ears, your eyes, your mind, and your feelings. They targeted your reserves. They were a grinding torture of constant apprehension and anxiety. They were psychological warfare, and noise is an effective tool in that arsenal.

I happened to turn on the TV yesterday afternoon while President Biden was speaking. He spoke softly, but with great emotion. He invited us to remember what our losses, COVID-19-related or not, felt like. He allowed us to stop for a moment and to just be. And then he was silent, too, and the South Portico, previously a center of noise and anger and hate and bombast, was revealed as a place of silence, of reverence, of love, and of grief.

I’m a practicing Episcopalian and we have a wonderful guide for our worship, the Book of Common Prayer. The funeral service includes some of its most beautiful passages. I’ll close with one of them after our night of shared mourning:

Give rest, O Christ, to your servant(s) with your saints,
where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return.  For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

I wish you all light and healing.

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