I brought down my raven rattle. When he didn’t seem to produce a satisfactory sound, I wrapped my jingle-bell bracelet around his neck. Perfect!
Simply drumming or rattling does nothing for me. There had to be music. Wordless humming didn’t cut it either. So I sang. Songs. Christmas songs, ancient Advent songs, Auld Lang Syne…
I sang for my parents. For Mom, “Moon River.” And some Simon & Garfunkel. And “Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing, her favorite movie of her later years.
For Dad, it was more difficult. He was not particularly musical, and he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. But I hit on “You Are My Sunshine.” Dad loved to drive us all around in the car, and we often sang on those long drives. Dad always chimed in on “Sunshine”…loudly and tunelessly. Last night, I sang it for him, accompanied by my jingle bells and raven rattle.
And I did come up with a list of things that “no longer served.” Things like grudges and excesses; indulging in some things more than I should; abstaining from things I should be doing. I wrote them down on a legal pad, wrapped my plum branch in the paper, and both went in the fire.
I started my fire at about 4:00 last night. The evening was clear and cold, and it was still light out. The thought came to me that I should watch the skies as I sat by my fire. The Almighty might send me a spirit messenger. Perhaps a heron would glide in and land in my garden; or an eagle might soar overhead on its way to its evening roost. But the sky was oddly empty. Not even the normal evening “crow-time”--the mob of local crows heading up into the hills for the night--dotted the sky or broke the silence. Finally, I gave up looking. But I was brought to attention by a rattling call coming toward me from the east.
A kingfisher. He flew like a bullet right over my garden, rattling and chattering all the while.
Now, it’s not usual to see kingfishers flying over my yard. They tend to stick close around creeks or the channel; my house is not within spitting distance of the kinds of places they hang out. So I knew this sighting was special, that the kingfisher was the messenger it had been suggested I watch for.
What message might kingfisher bring? My reference book had this to say:
“Take the plunge into this project or relationship with confidence and alacrity, and let go of all doubt and fear, because it will be successful.” ( Wonderful! I could surely use a little success right now! Now all I have to do is come up with a project...)
“Get daily physical exercise that involves both cardiovascular and muscular elements.” (Not many spirit guides carry messages such as this…guess I had better take this seriously.)
And this is my favorite:
“You’re at the initial stages of a cycle of abundance and prosperity, so welcome and receive it.”
A shamanist friend—one who is much more immersed in the mysteries and journeys of shamanism than I probably ever will be—asked me what Christmas means to me. Being as how it IS “Christ”-mas and all. This friend knows that I have left Christianity behind and am traveling a path of alternative spirituality. I’m sure it must seem odd, then, that I post stories about encounters with animal spirit guides on the same page with pictures of my five Christmas trees and outdoor light display.
My answer takes into consideration one undeniable fact: I was brought up Christian. Not just Christian, but Catholic. It was not my choice, but it IS my history. As much a part of me as the brown eyes I got from my dad or the short legs I inherited from my mother.
In Catholic school, we were all about the “Christ” part of Christmas. Midnight Mass and fasting before Communion and the gorgeous Italian crèche with the three-foot-high figures set up in one of the side niches of the church. And of course, as all-American baby boomers, we did not eschew Santa Claus (in whom I believed until I was almost ten years old…) or presents or Christmas trees. My childhood was rich in all the trappings of the holiday season—both religious and secular. And we were okay with it. Somehow we managed to fit the baby Jesus right in there alongside Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman, yet remain aware of the “real” meaning of Christmas.
The REAL meaning of Christmas. What is that, exactly? Arguments have been made placing the actual birth of Christ on half a dozen different dates, depending upon the criteria examined. The truth is, no one really knows when Christ was born. In fact, there is no surviving historical record THAT Christ was born. So it seemed simple enough, several hundred years ago, to assign the commemoration of Christ’s birth to a holiday that was nearly universally celebrated in some way in the lands into which the Christian faith was expanding: the Winter Solstice. I have to smile when I hear present-day Christians whining about “keeping the Christ in Christmas,” when it was their ancestors who plunked Christ into a holiday where he didn’t historically belong.
But I have no real beef with Christians celebrating Christmas at Solstice. Human beings almost instinctively celebrate the promise of lengthening days and shortening darkness. One feast of light and life is as good as another, as far as I’m concerned. There’s no need for us to disrespect the customs of others, nor to compel others to celebrate as we do. The Almighty is an expansive force. I’m sure It can appreciate and include more celebrations of Creation than we have the capacity to invent. It’s when we start saying, “THIS is the right way to celebrate, and YOU are doing it wrong!” that we get into trouble.
So I don’t see any particular disconnect between my current spiritual views and my love of all things Christmas. Christmas is largely a secular, social holiday. I’m smack in the middle of my fifty-seventh experience of this cultural phenomenon. Of course it’s very much a part of me, and I see no reason for this to change. I can indulge in the decorating and the shopping and the gift-giving and the eating without feeling that I am somehow denying my spiritual direction.
Still, I have a new path that begs acknowledgment now. I am impressed by how gently the Almighty has reminded me of this. A week ago, had you asked me how or even if I planned to celebrate the Solstice, I would have replied, “Ummmm….” What with all the decorating and entertaining and party prep, I hadn’t really thought much about it. As luck (or the Almighty) would have it, my party is over, my decorating is done, shopping is accomplished and I suddenly find myself with a couple of days to just…be. And I find I’m “being” nudged in the direction of Solstice. Of considering its significance. Of pondering its elemental place in the circle of life. Of crafting my own ceremony of acknowledgment and participation in something very ancient and very deeply real.
I’ve decided upon a Fire Ceremony. The Winter Solstice fire is a North fire. It honors ancestors and teachers. I’ll build a fire on my north deck and think about my ancestors; especially my parents. Christmas is so much about family, particularly those we miss—a significant connection between the two celebrations, as I see it.
Also, the Solstice fire is a cleansing fire. One ritual has participants choosing a stick to add to the fire. The stick represents all the things that “no longer serve.” We put the torch to these things to make more room for the new, and for things of lasting importance. Truthfully, this is a hard one for me. I find myself at a crossroads, and I am undeniably burdened with a lot of meaningless junk. But I’m not really sure what no longer serves. There are times I feel that my entire life no longer serves…and then, there are times I’m afraid to let go of anything, for fear that may be the thing from which my next chapter was meant to spring.
But I have already chosen my stick; I pulled a dead branch out of my plum tree this afternoon after I raked the leaves. The branch is sitting on my “altar” now—the place where I keep my crystals and my ritual trappings. My hope is that it will absorb some of the energy of these things touched by my hands and my spirit. Tomorrow morning I’ll hold the stick and meditate on what things I will attach to it—what things no longer serve—to be burned in my Solstice fire of cleansing and remembering.
Is this the correct, or accepted, or ONLY way to commemorate Solstice? I have no idea. But it is MY way, at this stage of my journey. And I’m really looking forward to it.
How I have looked forward to Christmas 2011! The promise of an unharried, calm and cozy holiday season is the carrot for which I have reached since we made the decision to give up the restaurant, way back in October 2010. I’ve anticipated this season like a lifer unexpectedly granted parole. How I was going to revel in it! What delicious fun I would have decorating my house! The events I would attend! The shopping I would do! I foresaw hours of leisurely retail therapy, soaking in the electric holiday atmosphere at every mall, big box and local shop within striking distance. After five years of trying to squeeze fragments of a family holiday in between the constant barrage of demands that was the café, I was utterly stoked at the idea of being completely free to enjoy Christmas any way I wanted.
Ah, but those last eight months! I could not foresee what kind of a toll they would take on me. Initially, I thought I was getting off easy. I had expected to feel unbearably sad and defeated as we wound up what I had thought was going to be the greatest challenge/triumph of my life. Instead, the time went so quickly, and I was so exhausted that before I knew it, the last of our Last Mothers’ Day Brunch guests were collecting their roses and their leftovers and heading for home. The crushing sadness and defeat never really materialized. When we closed the doors, I was overwhelmingly…done.
But the actual closing of the restaurant was the task from hell. I wanted nothing more than to be finished and away from it, but I could not seem to scrape it off. There stretched before me seven weeks of cleaning, tearing down and paying bills; dealing with vendors, the landlord, the city, the cable guy, old employees, old customers, insurance companies…it seemed like everyone wanted a piece of what was left of me—which was not very much. May 8 through June 30, 2011 were the longest 53 days of my life.
Even then, I wasn’t done. I had to jump right into the challenge of three major events for the concession business. By the end of August, I wasn’t merely running on empty. I had turned the tank inside out and scraped every molecule of available energy from the lining. There is not an English word for the degree of exhausted I was.
And it’s been a slow road back. In September and October I spent my days happily accomplishing not much of anything. Sure, there was a backlog of things around the house and around my head that needed to be dealt with. But not Right Now. Nobody was holding a gun to my head to do anything, and I was enjoying my liberty with a vengeance. The end of October rolled around and I knew the day was coming when I would have to reel myself in and begin tackling Holiday Preparations. I should have been excited. I should have been revved up. This was what I had been waiting for, what had kept me going at my lowest, most overextended ebb.
But I wasn’t excited. In fact, to my surprise, I was…resentful. I wasn’t done playing. I wasn’t done doing nothing. I was not ready to take on a new “to do” list, no matter how happy or fun the things “to do” promised to be. The mere fact that there were things that needed to be done, and that there was an element of time sensitivity involved, took much of the fun out of it. I’d been living with the impossible hanging over my head for so long that I wanted nothing to do with anything even slightly resembling a deadline.
So I attached baggage to the tasks to make them meatier. Maybe “decorating for Christmas” didn’t hold enough weight to spur me to the necessary action. I made decorating a corollary of cleaning out and organizing the garage. Unfortunately, that little gimmick had exactly the opposite of the desired effect. Instead of giving me a false sense of how important the job was, it put me off it almost entirely. I’d created a little voice in my head that said, “Now you have to get this done!” and my response was to fold my arms, turn my back, stamp my foot and pout, “Make me!”
I did eventually buckle down and dig in. I shuffled through box after box of holiday decorations out in the garage, trying to figure out what had had its day and was destined for Goodwill, and what I could not part with. It was impossible. I sent away maybe three boxes out of the fifteen that filled every cranny and empty shelf space in several locations around the house. Thrown into the mix of my own 35 years of holiday excess were several boxes of things I had bought to decorate the restaurant. Augh.
We’re now into the second half of December. The Christmas cards I had determined to send (because I was going to have the time!) are still sitting in boxes in the kitchen. All the baking I was going to do has distilled down to one stale loaf of cranberry bread deteriorating in the pantry. NONE of my shopping is done—not even for the party I’m hosting tomorrow for former staff of the café.
But the decorating…by god, the decorating is done. Outdoor lights, multiple Christmas trees scattered around the house, satisfying displays of my many collections of holiday chotchkes. And I have to say, it doesn’t look half bad. But it was quite the journey. I learned that my well of creative juices has not yet recovered to the place where ideas will spring forth merrily and prolifically. I need to drop the bucket deep, and I’m never quite sure what will come up. And while patience was never my virtue, what little I had of it has completely evaporated. More than once I had to stop myself from flinging a recalcitrant string of lights out the back door, or taking a handful of tangled plastic snowflakes and tossing them into the fire.
And time, which for a few weeks, politely paused long enough to let me almost get my breath, has shifted into high gear again. Christmas will be gone in a little over a week! I have been focused on “doing” this season, really, for over a year. Now, I’ll have to gird my loins and step off into the Next Chapter.
I haven’t decided yet whether I’m relieved or completely cowed.
This is going to be another series (yay!), as I have identified a few topics I want to write about under the general heading of "Chrismas 2011." Hope you'll join me for the rest...
I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him. --Abraham Lincoln
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Where I'm From
I am from station wagons, from kool-aid and turf-builder.
I am from the three bedroom, one bath ticky-tacky box
with the swath of weedy lawn; from lightning bugs,
June bugs, and mosquitoes the size of small birds.
From nights near as hot as the days,
spread-eagled on sticky sheets
crickets creaking, horns honking,
trains rumbling and whistling in the distance…
I am from snow to the eaves, jewel-studded ice storms
and green-black thunderstorms with sideways rain.
I am from bright red tulips, honeysuckle berries,
and worms on the driveway after a cloudburst;
from daisies, tiny wild strawberries, “Queen Anne’s Lace”
and crashing the kite into power lines.
I am from “Look what followed me home from school”
and never having too many animals. From Taffy and Rusty
and Sunny, the yellow headed parakeet, who could say
“Happy Birthday” but only when he thought
no one was listening…
I am from the women who shuttle the carpool,
punch the clock, scrub the toilet,
then climb into the bottle, the herb
or the fantasy to quiet the noise in their heads
and the men they choose to rescue
or who choose to rescue them.
From “When you meet the right one, you’ll just know”
and “Your dad was a virgin when we were married…”
I am from the dutiful eldest daughter who paired off
home made and pro-created at the appointed time,
and the other four who didn’t.
I am from the tearful Catholic and the stoic agnostic;
the rope stretched taut between belief and unbelief,
pulled one direction, then the other…
the eternal tug of war never won.
I’m from pioneers of urban exile; before the country clubs and the soccer and the Rolls Royces.
I’m from the first McDonald’s and the last Tastee Freez.
I am from the great moldering box in the upstairs closet;
roaring twenties sepias stacked on
shiny square instamatic shots, discoloring with age.
I am from the five stair-steps, the Christmas trees, the campfires,
and the blurred mountains captured from a moving car.
I am from the unlikely union of a country boy and a city girl,
brought together by Hitler and Hirohito;
and the neighborhood of compromise
that kept them both sane…almost.
On Where We're Destined to Go...
As for life, I'm humbled, I'm without words sufficient to say
how it has been hard as flint, and soft as a spring pond,both of these and over and over,
and long pale afternoons besides, and so many mysteries beautiful as eggs in a nest, still unhatched though warm and watched over by something I have never seen -a tree angel, perhaps,or a ghost of holiness.
Every day I walk out into the world to be dazzled, then to be reflective. It suffices, it is all comfort - along with human love,
dog love, water love, little-serpent love,sunburst love, or love for that smallest of birds flying among the scarlet flowers.
There is hardly time to think about
stopping, and lying down at last to the long afterlife, to the tenderness yet to come, when time will brim over the singular pond, and become forever,
and we will pretend to melt away into the leaves.
As for death, I can't wait to be the hummingbird, can you?
"Sometimes I go around feeling sorry for myself; and all the while I am being carried by the wind across the sky." --Chippewa saying.