13. A Candle in the Winter Darkness



Artwork by Enrique Cropper

“Happy Christmas” said my wife as she kissed me on the forehead and I realise I have, somewhat unusually, slept in late.

In that instant, lying in bed still half asleep, I feel a sensation that has grown stronger and stronger each year: a sensation of the deep midwinter completeness of Christmas Day.

I flash inside with just the same anticipation I had since I was a kid: good things promise to come. Yet now the excitement of receiving toys and gifts has begun to transform into feelings, that I’m being granted other surprises at Christmas.

First, we’ll be together in the family. The children are home; my mother and aunt are here too. We’ll exchange our presents and “um” and “ah”, and giggle and hug each other in thanks. The Christmas decorations will be cheerfully around us and my wife will have lit the candles on the coffee table, like she always does, to acknowledge the event.

Later in the morning, friends and a few neighbours will be coming over for a drink, as they have done for the last few years. When we’re together at these times, sharing our thoughts on what’s happening in our lives, and in the topsy-turvy world around us, I see hope. I’ll see the type of hope that comes from free individuals, old and young, man and woman, seeking openly how to relate to each other, how to express ourselves and how to find a sense in the challenges we face. It will surprise me and I will see it as a gift. I’ll see it as the warmth of human light, in a surrounding darkness.

When they’ve gone home, we’ll sit down to the Christmas meal. My wife will have put all her care into getting the turkey just right, the stuffing, the roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts, the gravy and the cranberry sauce. We’ll all eat well. I’ll feel grateful.

And when the evening comes, and I will reflect on the day, I think I’ll do again what I began last year. I’ll put a match to a Christmas candle, I’ll make myself comfortable and I’ll look into the brightest part of its flame. I’ll surprise myself again. I’ll picture the ancients, chanting through the longest night of the winter solstice, to make sure the light would return. I’ll keep watching the pulsing halo around the rising tip of fire, dissipating into the dark, and I’ll feel a sense of wonder in how the light shines as the goodness in all my fellow beings past, present and future.


“Brbr”, whispered Dvd, “it’s time to go to eat, the goose will be served soon”.

Brbr had lit a candle and had remained contemplating its light, for over half an hour since they had come back from the morning’s thanksgiving service. With Dvd’s return from his journey, three days earlier, she had become transfixed.

There had been difficult conditions this December, with a blizzard blowing in from the east, bowing the pine trees with its force, and mounting the snow in high drifts along the route. Dvd had needed two day’s full rest before he could share his stories, so eagerly awaited by the fraternum, last night. The thick pillows of winter snow that huddled round the roots of the great oaks above their heads had created a peaceful atmosphere in their habitation, heightening the acoustics for listening to the brave Dvd. The tale of his good deeds, the ordeals and dangers, over so many months, had filled the room and made it a particularly special Christmas Eve for everyone.

For Brbr, the elation and gratitude she had felt on Dvd’s safe return had so moved her, as if her whole person had been transformed. Dvd knew, as her closest companion, that, beyond the relief she felt on his homecoming, it was also an inner realisation in Brbr that was breaking through.

“Dvd, when I look into the light of the candle I see the light that shines … as the goodness in all my fellow beings past … present …. and future”, she said solemnly.

Dvd hesitated. He was aware that the fraternum members would be waiting to sing together their songs over the Christmas meal, and to carve the only goose they would eat this year, at this time. Yet he could grasp with full conscience the inner change Brbr was experiencing. And he knew he could not rush her.

“I see myself meditating on the light of a candle, Dvd” she said softly. “It was long ago. It was Chrstms night. But I see it as if it is happening, now”.

There was a prolonged pause. Then Brbr turned her face to meet Dvd’s. Their eyes exchanged glances of deep trust and love. Brbr had slowly moved back out of her meditation and was now smiling tenderly.

Acknowledging her readiness to return to the present, Dvd took her hand and raised her up to make their way to the dining area. “Let’s join the others for our Chrstms meal”, he said, “We are all together once again”.

This entry was posted in Christmas stories, Mark, Observing Brussels. Bookmark the permalink.

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