This is an inner journey. A journey of the spiritual and mundane and about being human. An imperfect journey. My journey.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Some Days Are Diamonds...


"Some days are diamonds...some days are stones."
~ Dick Feller




Some days it's difficult for me to tell which are which. That's what clinical depression does. It screws with your head so much that you don't know when you're having a good day. I can't recall when I had a really good day, one where I've looked back and said, " More, please." Usually it's the other way around, " No more, please."

Last Friday was one of those " No more, please" days. It began well enough with laundry and house keeping with a little niche cut out for writing, and then time for catching up on social media. I was about to sign off when a message from a close friend in North Carolina popped up. I am always happy to see something from Laurel, who is bright and fun and insightful. Her note to me began," Please hold Arthur in the light..." Which was normal enough, because we are always keeping close this way, if not in those exact words. What came next was unexpected, one of those things that speed by, side swipe you and leave you feeling slightly light headed. Laurels words were:" He died in his sleep."

The Angel of Death and I have become old friends over the years. We greet one another with a respectful nod of the head when I walk into hospital rooms or the homes of the terminally ill. We give one others' black outfits a cursory once-over, and I am always envious of his robes, which fall into neat folds. " Hello, Mal'ak." I greet him by his Semitic name because it seems more cordial. He is usually quick and goes about his work quietly, and I mine. The personification I have of him is tall, sleek and graceful, with a somber expression, deep-set dark eyes and long black hair. At times the hood of his robe is drawn up to shield his face, and at others he appears with huge, black wings. For all that is dark about him, it he is oddly radiant.

I don't know if Arthur knew he was coming, but I'm sure he leveled knowing gaze at Mal'ak when they were finally eye to eye. Arthur may have Allowed Mal'ak to free him from his mortal body, but he hung back just at the edge of our realm to wait until we knew he had left us...and then he boarded the golden crescent boat that would take him to misty Avalon,to the Isle of Apples, to walk among the Sunflowers forever. Mal'ak stood on the shore watching with the rest of us as Charon poled across the silvery waters. He stayed just long enough for the news to be spread through our circle of friends, then he, too, disappeared.

Arthur was one of those people who could fill  a space with his presence, and that presence was always welcoming,gracious and most kind. Our friend Paige pointed out that when Arthur told a joke he was capable of " looking blandly innocent and elegantly unrepentant all at once". He had a wicked sense of humor and was master of the pun. He was so well-read that he could authentically converse on nearly any subject brought up in conversation, and if it happened to be something he was unfamiliar with (a rarity), he would find out as much as he could.

When I lived in Raleigh we spent many Sunday afternoons together; we went out for coffee and conversation, then to the place I lived to comb through my library and listen to music. We shared a love of books, music, theater and art. We found that because we'd both spent our formative years in the Episcopal we shared numerous mutual friends. At different times in our lives we'd each explored Buddhism and still kept Buddhist principles. We wrote and performed liturgy together, infusing it with male/female polarity, but without the sexual baggage.

In the space of a breath, it was all gone.

It's not always true that we don't know what we have until it's gone. I know what I had in Arthur. We were always careful to say goodbye, and in hindsight,maybe that was because we somehow knew we wouldn't have one another for very long in this incarnation. Or maybe it was because we sense how long that goodbye was going to have to last before we saw each other again.

.

Monday, June 2, 2014

My Country...And Yours...And Yours...And Yours.

In this blog I keep mentioning what I love about living in this part of the country...the mountains that heaved into the sky thousands of years ago, valleys that are tucked in between and creeks that seemly bubble up everywhere to satisfy a thirsty Earth. All such a gift of Nature which I believe gives us a glimpse of the nature of God.

I use the word 'God' generically to describe both male and female parts of the Divine Creator. 'Goddess' would also be correct, but it's a bit awkward in some situations and we are more comfortable with the use of the former. In some Eastern Orthodox religions, the feminine divine is named Sophia (Holy Wisdom).  I believe there must be both within the nature of the Universal Source in order to understand His/Her character and our human selves.

I also believe that the names we have for the Supreme Divine Being are intended to be the personal understanding each of us has of that element of our individual spirituality. The holy names are intended to be used in those quiet times of personal communion; they are an endearment between loved ones. I think it's staggeringly wrong to shout these names from the rooftop because Holy Scripture makes it clear that we are to address God in private (Matt.6:5-6) Devout Jews wear a prayer shawl which is called a talith, talis, or talit ( depending on your preference), which means, "little tent". When the prayer shawl is in use, it is drawn up over the head and shoulders to literally form a private space for the person to address the Divine Being. Muslims must pray in a clean place and spread a prayer rug to use between themselves and the ground, thus creating a place set apart for praying. Nowhere in any of the three great books of the Abrahamic religions does it state that anyone should stand up in public and shout out the Name of God. Rather, there are plenty of verses that advise the contrary. Time spent between you or I and God is not only sacred and should be set apart, it is not to be done to showcase our religious beliefs in front of others. Which is exactly why I am stymied when I hear about situations where there has been a conflict arising from public prayer where a specific Name of God has been invoked prior to a municipal or fraternal meeting (And usually by monotheists, and most specifically, by Christians.)

I was raised in the Christian Church, and that is where I first met God. I am not anti-Christian and I do not hate Christians because I do still hold the teachings of Jesus to be sacred among those of others. Over the years my religious beliefs have changed and I now embrace a more universally spiritual understanding which is not only non-denominational, but interfaith. It transcends the limitations of Christianity and monotheism. There is much to learn and apply spiritually from all forms of religion, as well as from the Humanist and Atheist Traditions. Together they make a beautiful bouquet of knowledge and understanding. We can apply this toward the work we need to do toward tolerance and inclusion. My own personal belief is that the Imminent Divine-whatever you prefer to call the Source of your spirituality-is not one that exclusions others from the table of the Universal banquet.

I may not believe the same things you do, but I most certainly will not discount it and I will respect and defend your right to whatever you believe. What I will not do, however, is defend those who self-righteously stand before an assembly and assert their religious dominance.Assuming that everyone in the audience believes the same as you- or should- is simply the height not only of arrogance, but ignorance. The First Amendment to the Constitution-what is commonly known as the separation of Church and State-clearly says that making of any law establishing the creation of a federal religion ( an official religion of the State) is prohibited, and guarantees the free exercise of the religion of choice among the people. Well meaning individuals who insist that this is a nation founded on Christian values are mistaken, because that was never the intention of the framers of the Constitution.Many, who like Jefferson and Franklin, were non-Christian and in fact were Deists who believed that reason and observation of the natural world was sufficient to prove the existence of a Supreme Being. There was nothing implied in favor of nor against the supposed divinity of Jesus Christ. What it did imply, however, is that any federally supported institution or other entity would be religiously neutral under Constitutional Law.

Some members of religious sects-specifically ultra conservative fundamentalist Christians-are historically bad at recognizing this, and their interpretation of the First Amendment is bent in ways it was never intended to support their personal belief system at the exclusion of all others. Essentially they believe their concept of how and whom to worship is the only way, and many of them will attempt to persuade others not only through vigorous proselytizing, but by any force available to them, including emotional and psychological manipulation. ( On the other hand, according to the Book of Acts in the Bible, when Jesus sent his disciples out into the world, it was to offer a message of hope through a New Covenant with God-not threaten or force others to submit to religious cohesion. In fact, he pointedly instructed that if anyone rejected the Gospel, they were to be left alone and the disciples were to depart that place in peace.) So, in effect, what this particular group is actually doing is being disobedient their own God, and denying His words of instruction. They are willfully acting of their own accord and outside the Gospel they hold so near and dear.


Now I'm going to tell you about one of the things I don't like about living here.This part of Appalachia is host to a cluster of ultra conservative fundamentalists. Even as traditional mainstream denominations are shrinking at an alarming rate, these small autonomous groups have taken a foothold under the premise that THEY are not only the true (and only) definition of what it is to be Christian, but of what it is to be American. I don't mind telling you that I am personally sick and tired of the hubris and noise these people make when-like spoiled children- they don't get their own way. Their favorite battle cry is, no matter the situation, if you disagree with them you are not only discriminating against the Christian,s you are also being un-American in the process because America is a Christian country. Nothing could be further from the truth, and furthermore, it never was intended to be. This is a country that was founded on the idea of equality and justice. The only reason religion was ever mentioned in the  Constitution was because a provision for the separation of the United States as a country from the Church of England as a political entity had to be noted; the King/Queen of England rules not only the country, but is the titular head of the church as well. The framers of the Constitution wished to make clear that not only did Americans not want a monarchy, they also didn't want an official state religion.
America is truly a melting pot of many cultures and faith traditions. We are free to worship as we choose as long as we don't infringe on the rights of others in our society. That includes those who eschew religion and choose to decline affiliation with a specific religious denomination, those who wish to identify as "spiritual" (whatever form that takes), and even those who choose to not believe in any deity at all.


Friday, April 11, 2014

You Get Bigger As You Go

Logging onto Facebook on Saturday evening, I found that someone who'd been a huge influence in my life had died unexpectedly during the previous night. The announcement came in the form of a video posted by another friend with a brief comment. Time seems to not only stand still but expand in moments like these, and I found myself inside a bubble that insulated me from the blaring TV and chatter in the background. Joe was dead, and suddenly I was encapsulated in a place where everything was suspended while I searched my feelings about his passing. I have written and re-written this post for the last week because I wanted it to say everything I felt about him. I have stopped now, because I realize that words are inadequate and will never be enough-and so I will allow these words to stand as they are.

Strangely, there were no tears. I didn't even have the urge to cry.Perhaps it's because of my personal understanding of the death of the body simply being a continuation of the life of the soul in spirit. I did find myself missing our friendship and thinking about all that had transpired during the many years since we'd met. Literally, a lifetime has gone by. We'd both moved around the country teaching or serving new congregations, and our personal spiritual practices had changed from the one we shared in the beginning of our relationship. Our paths cross-crossed from time to time: there were a lot of near misses when we could have sat down for a meaningful conversation, but we just nodded and smiled knowingly instead.

Now Joe was gone, and the flood of memories began. I want to remember everything we did together, every little nuance, because in the back of mind I know this is it for our earthly relationship. I tend to compartmentalize events in my life (I think we all do), and so for me reviewing a relationship it always seems like I've taken out a VHS tape with the person's name on it and punched the "play" button.

And so the my personal version of "Life With Joe" flickered across the movie screen in my mind: Our first lunch in a very hip bistro; the exhilaration and exasperation of me teaching school for the first time and bouncing ideas off one another for graduate school; fussing over the minute details of worship services and the idiosyncrasies of older colleagues in the clergy we deemed

politically less aware than we were-and therefore, less cool ( Ah youth, the time when you're pretty sure you know everything!);
being frustrated when our personal differences and viewpoints collided and we couldn't change the other ones mind no matter how we tried; and finally,the things we both did that the other couldn't quite understand but accepted out of unconditional love.

Joe came along when I was in my early 20's and I still felt very much like a little flat dot with nothing to distinguish who I was yet. As a member of the Chad Mitchell Trio, he had quite literally been one of the people I watched on TV and listened to on the radio who sang the politically infused folk music I grew up on, and I was thrilled to be able to expand on those ideas during our conversations in person. Joe had been there marching on Selma for equality and during all the demonstrations concerning the Vietnam War, and later speaking out on fair housing and women's issues a generation before mine, and I idolized him because he not only taught me so much about the injustices in the world he inspired me to figure out real solutions in order to be of service to others.

He also taught me how to honor the irreverence and humor within me. In a particularly inspired moment one Christmas Eve, I whipped up a feline-sized cope and miter on my sewing machine for his cat Cardinal Fang ( his moniker came from Monty Python, all the rage then) to wear during one of Joe's infamous parties. Fang, I'm sure, was unimpressed, but everyone else reveled in my divine madness, and much to his chagrin, he made numerous appearances at parties to bless the masses with milk and Friskies and raised paw. It was during one of these Bacchanalian fests that I smoked some very fine-quality hash for the first time and discovered after a marathon session of barfing in the backyard that my future in the fine art of toking would be non-existent. Thereafter I would be forced to retreat to the kitchen where I was safely out of reach of the plumes of Demon Weed. I honed my skills at pot scrubbing while everyone else mellowed out.

It wasn't all politics, religion, and socially pretentious parties-we had our quiet moments, too...The day Joe returned from officiating at a funeral and nonchalantly dropped the most exquisitely perfect red rose bud that I had ever laid eyes on into my hands."Thought you'd like this," he announced cavalierly," Don't get gooey about it". I still have that rose carefully wrapped in a tissue and pressed in a Bible. Joe was demonstrative and lavish with his friends; my treasure trove of birthday gifts included a copy of a Byzantine cross from the Met Gift Shop, a vial of pure attar of roses from a trip to Romania, and a wonderful silver Lookenbooth brooch. The material things, as special as they are, simply underscored the depth of our mutual affection at that time; what I find most endearing was the thought that was behind the selection of those things. It was more important to make the other smile than to try to be impressive or pretentious. And the greatest gift of all: he rescued me from a life of abuse and set me on the path to a courageous (and not entirely misspent) life of adventure. Thank You, Dearest Joseph.

The open letter that Joe wrote when he left us included the lyrics from a Bruce Cockburn song, "...You get bigger as you go, no one told me...I just know." And so it is: we live and learn and grow-up and grow old. Our consciousness and understanding of social justice, our spirituality and our journey all expand and get bigger as we travel along life's highways and paths less taken. Because of this and through it all, we, too, get bigger...bigger than our limitations, our dreams and our plans. Bigger, because we expand with the Universal Source. Bigger, until we expand beyond our temporary mortal shells and once again become the dust of our earth and the stars.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Early Spring

Officially, it has been Spring for the last eight days. Apparently, no one has informed Old Man Winter of this fact and advised him to move on, because the day before yesterday it snowed... again.
The enjoyment of Winter in the country lost it's charm for me a few weeks ago. Curse you, Currier and Ives!

I saw a lone robin this morning braving the remaining piles of snow in search of breakfast. I suppose any self-respecting earthworm is still in hibernation far down in the soil under the ice and snow. I hope the crocuses I planted last Autumn are, too.  There have been more than one day that I wished I could join them both in this suspended slumber,only to awaken when the Earth is once again warm and green.

Those "in-the-know" weather wise have said this has been the coldest and longest Winter on record in years. Personally think there is a deeper message: Nature, the Divine, or Whom or Whatever turns the seasons and sustains Life has sent us forgetful humans a little reminder that we are not in charge of everything. All of our wondrous scientific discoveries and other expressions of our supposedly advanced intelligence pales by comparison when stacked up to the miracles and power of the Cosmos.  On the occasions when we are slapped back into line by the Source of Life, we are pulled up by the shorthairs and then somewhat amazed. We are in shock and awe of what Nature in its fullest fury can unleash on us...and furthermore, we are forcibly humbled by the realization that there really is nothing we can do about it other than hang on for the ride on this whirling ball in space we call home.

We are so smugly self-aware of our position in the food chain that we forget we are not the lords and masters of All;  actually, we are far from that. We may understand the scientific dynamic of a tornado, but unlike Pecos Bill, we cannot lasso or stop one. We have little control over the rise of stream or river, and we cannot stop the Winter with a date on the Gregorian calendar.

The seasons are no respecter of mankind. We knew this earlier in our history when we were an agrarian culture. Our very existence depended on what we reaped and sowed...and upon what the weather would allow us to do. We had a better relationship with the Earth then; it's a pity we've lost that connection. We were more sure of who we were and our place in the Bigger Plan.

We were more apt to accept our discontent with a lasting Winter with grace. It made the arrival of Spring something that was appreciated than expected...as it should be, because we are owed nothing.
We are not guaranteed Spring; we are not even guaranteed to make it through Winter.

American folksinger John Denver wrote," If I could have one wish on Earth, of all I can conceive, t'would be to see another Spring...and bless the falling leaves."*

*Falling Leaves ( The Refugees),© words and music by John Denver, Cherry Mountain Music, 1988

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Waning Days Of Winter

There's snow in the weather report...again. Or should I say, yet again. At higher elevations it snows frequently during the winter. I know this and wish everyone around me would quit complaining about the snow and cold. We need snow and cold temperatures, it's a part of Nature's yearly plan to heal and restore the Earth. Vegetation needs to rest. The animals need to rest. So do humans.

I like the cold, long nights of Winter; I get a lot of reading and writing done while I'm bundled up in a blanket with a hot cup of tea to sip. In Winter I feel less obligated to be out and about, a lot of which is busy work meant to please others. Winter is Me time. Crisp Winter air clears my head, and I'm free to plan out my life with less mental chatter. Winter is the season to dream. Maybe that's why we chose it for the time of year to live out the Nutcracker: bring on the sugarplums and  fairies! We hang up the gold and silver decadence that would be garish at other times of the year.

Winter allows us to become someone and something else- if only for a moment- before returning to the harsh realities of daily life and the life-draining impossibilities we heap on ourselves through self-imposed drudgery. We are all in costume on Halloween to hide from our demons and later have a part in the Christmas play. We stand at the door begging for sweet treats, delighted by the candy and fruit cake. The last festive blow-out is Carnival, when we again wear the masks, dress for fantasy and indulge in decadence of body and spirit. ( Is it any wonder that the root origin of this festival's name is carnal? It is a celebration of  worldly pleasures).We push the boundaries for the last time before settling back into the reality of how we really live. Our own celebration of Mardi Gras-Fat Tuesday- reflects this last grasp at self-indulgence.

The sparse first days of Spring sweep away any of the glitz and glitter of Winter and we get back to the business of living our reality. We grudgingly chew on the first shoots of life while yearning for the fatness of Winter's feasts, our corporate memory of the Harvest later in the year a communal amnesia.

And so here I find myself, on the brink of these last few days of seasonally blessed restfulness, wishing for one more day to cuddle in the blankets and have another biscuit with my tea. I try not to listen to those who scorn Winter and to enjoy these last days. For what is more radiant than these days when the branches are heavy with diamond drops of icicles and the Earth is softened by a mantle of  undefiled snow? All the better, I say, to go deep within and wait in the dark Earth for the day when the Light breaks us free to bloom in our very own colors.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Moving On

My favorite place to be late on a Summer afternoon is out on the screen porch of the place where I currently live. Being close to Nature-watching the birds at the feeder, and the foxes as they cross the yard hunting for food, and the squirrels playing is one of the many small things that make living here bearable for me now. Nothing, as they say, lasts forever. I am standing at the door of change, eager to cross the threshold.

Life in North Carolina has been extraordinary. I've never felt quite so at home as I do here. I realize that may have everything to do with living in the South. I was born in South Carolina, but raised in the North. All of the schools I attended-save for one- were Northern schools ( seminary was distance learning from a university in Chattanooga, Tennessee). When I was younger, I liked the never-ending barrage of sights and sounds that are the hallmark of large cities. It really is true that New York City never sleeps; when I was a student, I appreciated finding a place for coffee and a bite to eat at two a.m and interesting characters to talk with. But I am older now, and while the occasional foray into the night in search of coffee and pie in the wee hours of the morning is still stimulating, I prefer the inky blackness of a still night so I can think if I'm writing, or as a blessed blanket for sleep.

When I moved to North Carolina (after 40 years in the Northeast Atlantic seaboard) I instantly fell in love with the city of Raleigh-it has everything, at the slower pace I was looking for at the time, but not so far out of downtown that I lost touch with a progressive lifestyle. Friends were made easily, and I found a spiritual community where I could minister and be of service. It's a beautiful state to visit and vacation in, and I've thoroughly enjoyed the people (well, most of them), but the backward politics of the conservative legislature and the over-the-top clamoring of aging hippies circa 1960s protesting everything gives me a slightly sick feeling and has really thrown a damper on my enthusiasm. It's all just so much of a waste of the precious energy I need to conserve nowadays.

This has lead me to once again to look outside of my comfort zone for a place of contentment and ease.In the last month I've been looking at a small mountain community in Virginia about two hundred miles slightly northwest, and the prospect of this place becoming my next new home is good. In my secret heart of hearts, I have always envisioned myself in Norman Rockwell's version of a small town. There is a part of my heart dedicated to apple pie and Americana, and I'd like that experience while I can still enjoy it. I'll let you know how that goes when I get back.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

We Need A Little Christmas...Now


Haul out the holly

Put up the tree 

Before my spirit 

falls again...
Fill up the stocking
I may be rushing things
But-!Deck the Halls 
again now...
From the Broadway musical 'Mame',composed by Jerry Herman,1966



I start checking the calendar for the date of the first Sunday in Advent by Thanksgiving. If you aren't familiar with it, Advent is the season of waiting when Christians prepare spiritually for the birth of the Christ Child. The word
Advent means " the arrival of something important", according to Websters Dictionary.

So... for the four Sundays in Advent, we in the interfaith community wait for the Divine Child ( the name changes according to personal spiritual practice: for some it's Jesus, for others it's Sol Invictus (the Invincible Sun), for others it's Mithra...or we wait for an occasion: the Winter Solstice,Yule, the Wild Hunt, a visit from Father Christmas or Santa Claus. There are many reasons for the season, because there are many days of celebration.
Celebrations such as Festivus, Saturnalia, Misrule, Yuletide, Wintertide...and a few I know I've forgotten.

We do it mainly to wind up the end of the old year and ring in the new, right up through New Year's Eve smack dab in the middle, and continue for six more days until the 12th day of Christmas or the Epiphany.

I'm no longer considered a Christian in mainstream religious circles. Technically, I'm a neo-Pagan. I still believe the teachings of Jesus have deep moral and ethical meaning, but I also ascribe to the wisdom of the Torah,and the Buddha. I am comforted in the compassion of the Dalai Lama; I find strength in the teachings of many ancient religions, including the Celtic spirituality of my ancestors. Because I have integrated all of this into a devotional practice that is tailor-made for me, I can still celebrate Christmas comfortably to a point. To be perfectly honest, I do it to honor where I came from- to remember Christmases past- and as a way of staying connected to my roots.

 I don't rush right from Halloween into Christmas the way the marketing folks would like; I take a last leisurely moment to enjoy Autumn and celebrate Thanksgiving for its own merits. Most years there is a few days between Thanksgiving and the first Sunday of Advent; that's when I start to slowly decorate, building anticipation for the season. I haul out my table-top tree and carefully unpack ornaments I've collected or been given as presents over the years; some of these came from my childhood and belonged to my grandparents.

My tree top angel is one of them. She's white molded plastic with clear wings, a relic from the mid-century: a bulb used to fit in her back, but now I tuck the first light of the string into the hole, and she lights up just fine. The Angel has sat on many Christmas trees throughout my lifetime- those in my grandparent's house where I grew up, and all of the places I've lived since then. She's seen the child's wonder in my eyes when I got a certain doll I wanted, and witnessed the years when my grandparents had volatile arguments over my Grandmother's drinking.
She was there for my first Christmas in my first apartment since college, when Tinker the Cat and I were housebound due to a snow storm that dumped three feet of snow on the town where I moved across the state. She spent a couple of Christmases packed in a box with all the other ornaments in a friend's basement when I was homeless, but she triumphantly returned to her rightful place when I rented a room in a house in North Carolina. Today, she rests atop my little tree, that is grandly displayed in the triple window of my new apartment, which sits half way up a hillside. The whole town can see my tree and electric candles-and the Angel who serenely crowns it.

Meanwhile, I am baking fruitcake and cookies on Christmas Day because I was busy making a little money to pay my utility bills as a paid bell ringer for the Salvation Army. ( Yes, I do know they ascribe to a theology that does not accept the LBGT community. And yes, I do  disagree very much with that because I think all of us are God's Children and that the interpretation of the Scripture used to justify that thinking is flawed and misunderstood. But I also understand that in this area of Appalachia, the Salvation Army is more often than not the only charitable organization that genuinely benefits the poor of the community and those in need...and it is the only place that would hire me because of my disability when I needed to make money to survive through this winter. There isn't many places to choose from when seeking employment-and I was desparate.
 Working in the charitable branch of the organization is not supporting their religious beliefs. That's not rationalization, it's logic...and I have learned the hard way that I cannot eat my idealism. That's another story for later).


Today has been been bittersweet. There are memories of times with friends and loved ones who are still dear to me- some whom I spoke with on the phone this evening. I remember others who have stepped across the Veil to the place where people go when we leave this life.


Christmas is also a time for children, and since I have none of my own, the childhood memories I have are mine. Not all of them are endearing. I can call up particular moments of feeling very cherished by my grandparents...and times when I thought ( and still believe) I wasn't very loved at all. Mornings when all the neighbors came over to celebrate the holiday and marvel at all the presents my grandparents gave me because they " wouldn't take a million dollars for me"( did anyone ever offer them a million dollars for me?), where I was the center of attention and the joy of their very existence...and the time after company left that I was told not to play with a certain toy and not take it out of the box.

Years later, during one of Mom's drunken  tirades, I learned that those toys were returned to the store so my grandparents could get their money back. We were simply too poor to afford the more expensive ones, but our family had to save face in front of our friends and neighbors, so I was gifted with a pretension of gifts purely for show. Pop couldn't live with the thought of others thinking he couldn't provide for his family; he was, in fact, a very good provider. We never went hungry, the bills were paid. We just ate cheaper cuts of meat and spent less. We were poor, but when I was a child-especially at Christmas-I never knew it until years after he died. Now, as I struggle with making a living on my own as an adult, I am saddened at the thought of those years, but I understand the reasons behind what was done. The memories hurt, and I ache for myself and for Mom and Pop, but the years have given me a compassionate understanding of the reasons behind why things were the was they were. The true gift that has come out of all those years is forgiveness.

I'm glad Christmas is 12 days because you can't fit all of the celebration into one day. These days it's not so much Christmas as it is Yuletide for me. I mainly celebrate the Solstice,and the return of the Light. The Light, as I see it, is the spark of life that rekindles the spirit and guides the soul in the cold winter months. The Light is hope. It is the justification for my believing that to the darkest days, the Light will return. We will always have the dark...in fact, we need it. We need darkness to rest and restore our life force, just as a bulb planted in the cold,dark earth in the Autumn will grow and burst through the ground into the light in the Spring. Humans are like that,too. We need one last celebration, to haul out the holly, put up the tree, throw on the glitz, feast and make merry before we get down to the serious business of growing in the light of the new year. Today, I need a little Christmas...and maybe tomorrow, too, and the next day, and the next...