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A Prayer on the Day After Christmas

A Prayer on the Day After Christmas
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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.

Updated Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

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9 Responses to A Prayer on the Day After Christmas

  1. alexandra barnes December 31, 2009 at 11:43 am #

    Hello there,
    I live in Oklahoma where we have more Native American tribes than anywhere I think. Your comment about seeing the owls sparked me to write. I have never met a Native American here in dustbowl land who likes owls. Most believe that seeing an owl is not a good thing. Owls bring change yes, but bad change. They beleive when you see an owl it is an omen, something bad will come to you. It is always a sign. While the stories I’ve heard make me a little nervous around owls I am not sure how much stock to put into it. Just thought you might like an Okie perspective! Happy New Year!

  2. Judith Kernan December 31, 2009 at 4:07 pm #

    I have a friend who is from Lebanon, and he will not allow any pictures or references to owls in his presence as they are considered bad luck. Someone hung a picture of an owl in the office and the next morning they found that picture destroyed and in the trash…so in some circles owls are bad omens.

  3. Doris Matthews January 1, 2010 at 10:20 am #

    Thanks, Edie, let’s hope that all of us will find a still point within and best of days to you in the coming year. Doris

  4. January 1, 2010 at 12:57 pm #

    Thank you, Alexandra and Judith, for your comments about the owl as possible source of bad omens. So interesting. To be truthful, the first time I ever heard that about the owl was way long ago when I was working at a local print shop, doing proofreading. The person who told me not only told me that if you see an owl, your life will change but she also told me that it was usually bad luck. A week later, I was laid off from my job, which I thought pretty much confirmed what she told me. But then, I went on unemployment and my husband and I built a small house of our own design and what happened after that was a mix of the good and the bad but, to be sure, my life did change after seeing that big bird swoop down in front of my car, pick up the rabbit and fly away. You could say that my job was lost after that but I would say that my life simply changed, dramatically, and the value of whether that was good or bad is hard to assess. So when I tell people about owls, I always emphasize the change, without a value put on it. Whether it’s good or bad sometimes takes a lifetime to know.
    (Oh, and by the way, I had no idea that Yankee would post a photo of an owl this week as their weekly photo. Kind of spooky!)

  5. K Lech January 3, 2010 at 7:00 pm #

    I hope the year brings many good changes for all of us! Blessings and best wishes to you in 2010!

  6. Phyllis Cusimano January 4, 2010 at 2:11 pm #

    Edie: Wishingyou all the best for 2010 and that this year and the next decade and beyond will bring you lots of luck, happiness, peace and good health. Looking forward to all your wonderful writings. It was very peaceful here after a 3-day 10″ snow fall!! daughter Carol was thrilled with your udated book “The Place He Made.”

  7. annie Gloss January 5, 2010 at 6:24 pm #

    Wishes of warm nights by the fire, tasty tea, many stories to blog, and a publisher just waiting for the book you are ready to share! May 2010 bring you and the girls good health, much love, and lots of extra money for people and puppy treats! Sending wishes for every happiness in the new year, Edie. Your friends in WA – Those Glistening Glosses

  8. January 9, 2010 at 5:19 pm #

    I love and enjoy your books, articles, and wish you a happy new year – I think the beginning of the next decade begins at the beginning of 2011? Whatever! Loved learning about solstice – very interesting. So about owls…..brings back memories of owl sounds and whipporwills I hear out in our fields and woods here in south Jersey in the warmer months. I had a small owl in the house that had been injured for a few days, years ago, then released it. Those eyes – how they do stare! Here is a poem I taught all my children: “The wise old owl sat in an oak, the more he heard the less he spoke; the less he spoke, the more he heard, let’s be like that wise old bird!” One of their favorite books that I still have for the grands and greats is about the little owl who refused to say “who” and instead kept saying “why” driving his owl parents crazy! I guess you are convinced – I love owls, life happens, change is inevitable, and Stillpoint is a comforting name for Mary’s Farm. God bless you and give you peace in every way.

  9. patricia zegarelli January 22, 2010 at 2:39 pm #

    Happy New Year to you and your canine companions. Just had to comment that the Greeks consider owls to be very lucky. Strange how different cultures perceive the same things.

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