A Prayer on the Day After Christmas
The time between Christmas and New Year’s is a silent time, a time of grateful stillness. At least it is here, at this place that is known in the magazine and to the folks in town as Mary’s Farm but that I call, privately, Stillpoint. Since the first night I spent here, the place here on the ridge has always seemed invested with profound peace, from the moment the morning sun first touches the mountain, throughout the day, when just a scattering of cars pass by, to the flare of sunset behind the trees, to the deep stillness of the middle of a star-filled night — there is little change in the tempo of stillness, to the reality of peace. The only noticeable change is the light, as the sun moves across the sky and then slowly moves offstage to give the magnificent night its chance to perform.
Christmas, for all of us, is a frenzied time, our checklist always on the table, packages to post, one more cake to be baked, one more gift to be wrapped, one last card to write and mail. Yesterday, a friend told me that his eight-year-old nephew, James, had a “meltdown” on Christmas Eve: he burst into tears and sobbed because he wasn’t ready for Christmas. He hadn’t wrapped his gifts yet; he hadn’t even finished the t-shirt he was making for his sister. As his family tried to calm him, he wailed, “I’m just too stressed!” Oh dear, how have we come to this? Instead of a time of joy and anticipation, Christmas has turned into a time of despair, even for children.
At one time or another during this season, we all feel like James. The demands of Christmas simply can’t be ignored. There doesn’t seem to be any exit. But, once the last dish has been washed from the Christmas feast, the table cleared and wiped down and all the aprons and tablecloths and napkins spun dry in the wash, comes that same amazing moment of stillness, a point that amounts to gratitude, when I can at last sit down with a cup of tea, put my feet up and reflect. The climax of the season is past and so is the solstice. Daylight begins to lengthen and there is a new year to be greeted.
The day after Christmas, I saw an owl. Once, many years ago, I was told by a person of native American descent, that if you see an owl, your life will change. In the years since, I have found that to be very true. I don’t see many owls but in the last three weeks, I have seen two, in different places. One flew across my path as I drove home one night and then the post-Christmas sighting was perched in a big tree across the field from my house. I watched him for a while. He sat stock still on the limb, his head turned, staring at me. I believe it was a barred owl, the common kind we have here, the one whose call we imitate as “who who, who cooks for you?” I told my neighbor about this and she startled me with the news that she had seen a snowy owl, which is pure white and very large, on that same day. I have never seen a snowy owl here, in fact, I’ve only ever seen one, some years ago over on the seacoast. So perhaps both of our lives will change. It’s the kind of thing that’s fun to contemplate as the new year looms.
Commentators have been almost unanimous in observing that this past decade has been simply awful, beginning with 9-11 and continuing to the Iraq war and all that that has cost us and the rest of the world, the horrors of Katrina and then the recession, jobs lost, houses foreclosed. We are in a place uncomfortably similar to the 1930s. So what will 2010 bring us? And what of its following decade? One commentator I heard said that it could not be any worse. I should think that it could get worse, a whole lot worse. But who knows. Change does not mean better or worse, it simply means different, that it won’t be the same. Change, as they say, is the only constant. So I will look to my owl, with his quizzical call, “Who cooks for you?” for the prediction of the coming year, and for the new decade, that this small spot of peace on earth, where the sun rises and sets with remarkable symmetry, that this still point in the turning world will not shrink but will expand and reach all corners of the earth. Amen.