“…primitive people used to watch the sun drop lower on the horizon in great terror, because they were afraid that one day it was going to go so low that it would never rise again; they would be left in unremitting night. […] Somewhere in the depths of our unconsciousness we share the primordial fear, and when there is the first indication that the days are going to lengthen, our heart, too, lift with relief. […] In the Christian Church these weeks leading up to Christmas, this dark beginning of our new year, is also traditionally the time of thinking of the last things, of the ‘eschaton,’ the end.
The night is far spent. The day is at hand.”
~Madeleine L’Engle, The Irrational Season
My grandmother, the only one I’ve known, passed away on October 14th, 2010. She died on her 65th wedding anniversary, after saying goodbye to her husband. We had been back in the States for less than two months. I was there at her bedside to say goodbye. To say thank you for having a secret cupboard just for me. Her only granddaughter. For filling it with paper dolls and color pencils and an endless supply of paper. For writing me letter after letter, even as her Parkinson’s Disease made it difficult for her to keep a steady hand.
I was not supposed to be in Ohio at the time. I was supposed to still be in Europe with my husband, but our plans had changed.
* * *
Grandma was married in a red dress. At the wedding her mother told the minister that she “don’t want any part of it.” She was afraid that my grandma would drop out of nursing school. She didn’t. But it was against the rules to get married, so Grandma had to continue living in the dorms and keep her marriage a secret.
Grandpa was a conscientious objector. During World War II. He was drafted and the government put him to work in a mental hospital for veterans. Grandpa spent one summer planting trees in Michigan. He and his friend would work harder and faster than the rest of the group so that they had time to read.
* * *
I’ve been spending a lot of time with Grandpa, listening to his slow repetition of stories of days long past. I’m unemployed. I have a lot of time to sit and listen. But I’m not listening very well. The noise inside my head is so loud. Voices telling me what a failure I am.
I’m feeling what a lot of you have been feeling for the last few years. A compulsion to curl into the fetal position, safe in your pajamas, watching old movies. The outside world is frightening. I returned from Europe to find my country in shambles. The job market is a bleak place, overrun with desperate people fighting for the same lousy position. With over ten years of pharmacy tech experience, I haven’t been able to get a job.
My family urges me to pray, to trust God. Which is harder for me to do than it was when I was a little girl. Living in this same, small town.
We moved into an apartment, down the street and around the corner from the home of my grandparents and my aunt and uncle. I live two buildings away from my dad and my youngest brother. My other brother, the middle child, and his wife and their three kids live within a ten minute walk away. I’m surrounded by family for the first time in ten years.
I spent the first eleven years of my life just a few steps from here. The apartment complex I grew up in is a long, brick building. I spent hours playing with my Barbies, begging my brothers to not fight, pleading “What would Jesus do?,” and reading stacks of books from the library.
Spending my days at the library, I gorge on their vast collection of movies and books. I stay busy tutoring four students. I recently studied the grotesque in Flannery O’Connor and the American Dream in The Great Gatsby. Now I’m digesting The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird. Reading is my trusted anchor. It keeps me from drowning.
* * *
Grandma spent sixty years in this town. She was involved in various organizations. She learned sign language after her children grew up. She volunteered at the local library and the Columbus Colony for the Deaf. She was constantly taking courses in art, creative writing, and Tai Chi. Grandma taught her children and grandchildren how to look at each new day with joy and wonder.
Now she’s gone.
There’s little light in my days. It’s becoming difficult to hold onto the joy of the summer: the days spent in southern France, the discovery and wonder in Brussels, Paris, London, and Edinburgh. I wonder if it was a mistake, to chase our dreams with such passion reckless abandon.
Now we’re here at the beginning and it feels like the end. I struggle to find a reason to get out of bed in the morning. To hunt for a job I don’t want. To clean our empty apartment.
David hasn’t painted in months. I haven’t been writing. We’re caught in a spiral of despair, anger, and bewilderment. Where is the creative spark? Everything is dead.
I struggle with my faith. Yet I find a glimmer of hope in the liturgy. This is the time of mourning and contemplation. This is the season of darkness. We mourn the passing of vivid autumn colors and long days. We surround ourselves with friends and family. We remind ourselves of the harvest—the work of the summer—which will sustain us through the coming months. We look toward the coming of the Christ child. Hope is a faint star on the horizon. We rise up and walk forward.
“The night is far spent. The day is at hand.”
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