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Sunday, November 13, 2016

Some of our Halloween decorations are still up. That’s not unheard of for our family – we do like to make the holiday last – but it is a bit late in the year. I told my husband I was going to buy flag lapel pins for the zombies in our yard to celebrate Veterans Day. He took the zombies and the fake graveyard down, but the graveyard fence is still up, along with a few skeletons, a giant plastic Jack O’ Lantern, and tiny ghosts in our apple tree.

We were watching television earlier this week and a Christmas-themed commercial came on. My husband said, “You know what I miss?” I answered, “Thanksgiving?” He laughed. That wasn’t what he had been going to say; I don’t remember what it was that he missed.

Due to a confluence of personal problems, conflicting schedules, and a lack of anyone willing to take the reins, my group of pagan-leaning friends failed to meet to celebrate Mabon or Samhain this year. Now we are wondering: pick it back up again with Yule, or let it go? I’ve missed the gathering and the ritual, but I’ve been so busy I didn’t even make time to celebrate those sabbats by myself.

Today was the first church service after the Presidential election. My Unitarian Universalist congregation usually has a small table to the right of the pulpit with a pillar candle in a shallow basin of sand and a collection of small beeswax tapers. Parishioners who wish to light a candle of joy, sorrow, or concern may come up at any time during the service, light a beeswax taper from the central candle, and stick it in the sand. During the offering is a good time to do it, since people are moving around anyway and no one is speaking. I stood up after the collection basket had passed my row and made my way to the front of the sanctuary. There was a line of people waiting to light a candle. Next to the usual tall round table was a larger rectangular table with a glass top. It also had a central pillar candle and was covered in tea lights. More people lined up behind me. A friend who had never come forward to light a candle before, not once in years of church attendance, lit one today. And the church was prepared for us. They knew.

It is unfortunately normal for me to feel stressed out due to the amount of work I have waiting for me at work and at home, and I often have a nagging feeling that time spent doing one thing should have been spent doing another. This feeling compounds during the Novembers I attempt NaNoWriMo. I am trying it this year, have set aside almost no time to work on my novel, and am woefully behind.

On my plate today was work for my job, urgent work for a church committee, household bills, and my novel. I am also trying to develop a healthy walking habit. I managed to do most of the committee work before and after church, but then had to take my six-year-old to his friend’s birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. Few things feel more like wasted time than two hours at Chuck E. Cheese that end in my son melting down at the prize counter because all he can get for 29 tickets is a plastic whistle in the shape of Chuck E.’s head or two Tootsie Rolls. The plastic brachiosaurus he wanted cost 1,200 tickets.

At home post-party, we had dinner and I decided I was going into the computer room to work. I was of course thwarted by children and a myriad of mundane household needs. The garbage was overflowing, my son spilled hot chocolate all over the floor, and all I could think was that even if I managed to get some work done, I still wouldn’t have written any words today. I wanted to scream, “Of course I never get any writing done! Why do I ever think I will be able to write!?” but I didn’t. Instead I banged cupboards and growled at children and considered pouring myself a drink before deciding to go on a walk.

I slammed out of the house into the night. It was raining lightly and the wind blew against the hood of my jacket. The sidewalks were wet, covered in leaves and pine needles. Today at church our minister talked about a project her friend had started this week in another part of the country. The friend was writing “neighborhood love letters” in colorful chalk all over the sidewalks. Things like, “Love > Fear,” “your life matters,” and “no one is illegal.” I’d have to clean the sidewalks first and the rain would wash the color and the words away.

A member of the congregation brought blank cards addressed to the Islamic Center of Tacoma so that we could write notes of support and love. I ripped up my first attempt because it felt stupid and I didn’t know what to say. I tried again with a simple message: I see you. You are valued members of our community. Let’s work together to make things better. I signed my name and turned the card in, still feeling stupid. Did members of the Islamic Center of Tacoma want cards from random Unitarian Universalists? Likely not. Would they appreciate receiving them anyway? I hoped so.

I thought about these things as I walked and knew I could light candles and write notes on the ground or put them in an envelope and wear a safety pin or not or a Black Lives Matter button or not and it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference.

I walked faster, hot and angry and overwhelmed. I imagined coming home and telling my husband that it was all up to him now; I couldn’t handle it any longer. I was going to check myself in somewhere and sleep for the next several years. Good luck. Then I rounded the corner and stopped walking at a sight so beautiful, I burst into tears. One house had its Christmas lights up. Almost all the lights were white: a white border on the house, globes made of light strings hanging from tree branches like ornaments, a white oval of lights on the lawn. Inside the oval was a small tree made out of blue lights surrounded by a field of twinkling white lights on the grass. I stood in front of that house and wept for five minutes.

I walked slowly towards home, bawling, without many coherent thoughts. At an intersection, I remembered a house at the other end of the park that usually had lights strung from tree to tree across its back yard. I wanted to see those lights too. I walked to the park, through the wet baseball field, and stopped next to the fence behind home plate, staring at the backyard lights. I stood there for several minutes while my crying slowed. I thought, “Maybe I’ll walk the neighborhood each night, just going from one set of lights to another. It’s November. Each week the number of houses with lights out will grow.”

Bring me Yule now, in the darkness of my soul. Give me a single candle on a dark night and the promise of the sun’s return and a baby in a manger representing the hope of the world. I’ll put a Santa hat on the skeleton in my yard and string some lights among the little ghosts in our tree. The turkey can have his due next year; this year I’m desperate for the light.

I’m counting these words for NaNoWriMo.

Published inCurrent AffairsLifeWriting


  1. Our lives are very different, but I can relate so very much to your words today. Thank you for them. Seeking joy – seeking light – is a challenge, but one that can keep you going. Given the mess we are in as a country and as a people, it can feel pointless to make any effort – buttons or pins or notes – and I have yet to reconcile that for myself. But moving forward, and making the effort to listen to others, is a start. Sometimes it’s all one can do. I am trying, lately, to give myself more credit for what I make possible. It may never be all I hope for. Work, kids, spouse, house, NaNoWriMo, plus hundreds of other things — you are doing what you can.

  2. Rich Hartmann Rich Hartmann

    Reading your story is extra special. Listening to the story of halloween or Christmas fare. Dealing with stress created by recent event. Working, Raising family, House chores, breaks, walking and writing. I feel your story in lIfe. I feel a little better. Feelings overflow as I read your words that bring out great feelings in me. It feels so good to read those words that surpass the hateful words we have heard the past year.

  3. Holly Holly

    Thank you, Katharine and Rich. I appreciate you both and am glad to have been able to get to know each of you through Twitter. Thank you for reading and for your words of support. <3

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