I think it was the lights. Of course, there are the parties, the music, and the food. You cannot forget about all those things. But, for me, I think it was the lights that made the difference during some of the darkest times in my life. I think it was finding a way to not only see the light, but to let the light in. The challenge was to let the lights from this time of year penetrate my darkness.
It certainly isn’t coincidence that so many of our most meaningful religious and cultural celebrations and gatherings happen during the darkest, coldest time of the year. It also isn’t coincidence that lights and elaborate decorations are a part of these celebrations. It is this time of the year that so many of us wake in darkness, work all day inside, and then drive home in darkness, fighting the bitter cold elements of the season.
We also start new this time of the year, in the dead of winter. We start new while everything around us remains dead and dormant. We celebrate the ending of another year and the hope of a new one. We light up the sky with fireworks, and cities with music and celebration. Yes, I am almost sure of it. It is the lights that made all the difference for me and my willingness, no matter how hard it was, to let the light in, even if just a little.
It was three o’clock in the morning when the phone rang. It was my mother on the other end of the line. Her voice sounded weak and I could tell she had been crying. “Hi Andy,” She said, “I’m sorry to wake you and Dana up, but we just got a call that my dad has been killed.” We cried together, neither of us speaking. After a minute, she shared with me that he had been murdered and that we did not know much more than that. I received this call early December, right after Thanksgiving. In the midst of all the year end celebrations and during the darkest time of the year. It was hard to let the light in.
I was enraged, to tell the truth. I was broken, and I was hurting. The lights, pomp, and circumstances of the season, well, it just seemed in such contrast to the way I was feeling inside. I didn’t want to be with people that year. I dodged the parties as far as I can remember. I didn’t sleep well, either, so I spent many nights up late, sitting in my living room with my wife, holding on and struggling with the hurt. Yet, there with us on those late nights were the lights from our Christmas tree. They were there glowing in the darkness. Twinkling out little shimmers of hope, that countered the darkness that engulfed our home…and our hearts. I didn’t know it at the time, but I remember gazing for hours at those lights, mostly feeling nothing.
Yes, I am pretty sure about it, now. It was definitely the lights that made a huge difference. Even when it was hard to let the light in, they continued to shine. And when I was able to let them in again, they were still there. And, they have continued to be there, even through my mom’s death and other subsequent losses.
Why? Because we all need a little light every now and then. Because when it is dark, we light up the darkness with light. That’s why we light up and celebrate during this dark time of the year. It is because we need the light. So, yes, it was the light, it always has been the light, and it is the light even now. Wherever you may be in your life. Whatever grief you have had to bear this year or years before. Whatever burden you carry. I have no list of steps to take to get through the holidays.
But I can say to you that you are not alone. We are all carrying our own burden. And, if you can at all find a way to do it – even just a little, find a way to let the light be part of your journey. Pay attention and let the light carve out a little hope in the midst of the cold, dark winter. Whether it is the light from the season, or the light that shines through the lives of others, loving you, cheering you on, and offering you care – see the light, notice the light, and find a way to let the light in.
-Andy McNiel, December 10, 2018