BY JUDITH WALCUTT
Dec. 20, 2013
It is literally the darkest hour before the dawn. It is Solstice, that fulcrum of the year when the sand has finally run out of the hourglass and the days are so short, it’s hardly worth getting out of pyjamas since we’ve barely had our morning tea and toast before it’s bedtime with milk and cookies.
This year’s run up to the darkness at its deepest is somewhat altered by the fact that we’ve had a full moon waxing which, with its big, bright, beaming face provides a perfectly poetic foreshadowing of the returning light. For those of us who suffer from chronic Vitamin D deficiency, this is good news. The sun will rise again and stay a little bit longer every day, once we just get past this one hard part — the longest night.
Thank you, Moon, for reminding me of that simple fact — the light will return, you can count on it. As she waxes and wanes, the moon mirrors this bigger picture in her monthly, twirling circle dance between light and dark phases. I am grateful that she is here now, silvering the water on Honeymoon Bay with her shape-shifting countenance, illuminating the sky like a silk lantern held high.
In plain words, the moon at Solstice reminds us of hope that lives within us, even when the heart is broken, the body is trampled, the walls are falling down around us — something in a human being wants to hold a spark of hope inside, like the moon shining bright on the darkest night. When you can hold hope like the face of the moon in your mind, hold it in the stillness of being right here, right now, you can remember the light on the other side of the darkness and you can get through what we are all up against this time of year.
You know what I’m talking about — the noisy barrage of information flooding the psyche’s field of awareness with that holly-jolly stuff regarding where to buy what at what price, who’s got the best deal on big screen TV’s, and how many days are left to run up your credit card, according to your led-lit advent calendar. We don’t have to say much more than that, except to say — as Douglas Adams once did in that hilarious piece of genius, “A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy — “Don’t Panic!”
There is another way to approach this dark hour besides succumbing to another dumb chia pet gift idea.
First of all, stop everything you are doing, including reading this sentence, and breathe seven breaths now. Come on, everyone together — in and out — seven, deep, big cleansing breaths:
That makes a difference, doesn’t it?
Now get a piece of paper — in fact get a whole pad — and write down things/persons/places/experiences you are grateful for in your life, right now, this minute. No excuses. Think of these thoughts as metaphorically lighting candles for your inner hope chest. Don’t be stingy with these imaginary votives — light big ones, little ones, all sizes of gratitude are welcome here. When you are comfortable with your list, put it in a place where you can easily find it and refer to it as often as possible during this seasonal stress test of nature vs. nurture vs. the American Habit of buying-out the store to obliterate the pain. If you get sucked into that outer turmoil and start to feel bad because you’re not buying more — read your list of gratitude and be kinder to yourself. Sit down and have a cup of cocoa.
Next, make a list of the people you feel compelled to give a gift to by virtue of love, need, guilt, birthright, debenture, sales and marketing, or any other reason not listed here. Be specific. Explain why, if only to yourself, in detail.
Instead of rushing to the Internet, the mall, or Walmart to do that last-minute dart towards insolvency, start drawing lines between the people whose names made the gift list and the candles of gratitude you are truly grateful for. Is there a correlation there you can observe and note?
Good! That means you’re thinking of giving to the right folks, whose names rise to the surface and who connect you to a plenitude of gratitude, who nurture your heart, and strengthen your courage. Circle them on your list with a pleasingly bright-colored pen. The rest — cross out, give up, or send a New Year’s card. Don’t stress about it now in any case — if you miss New Year’s, there’s always Chinese New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, or April Fool’s to catch up accordingly. As for the gift you might give those persons who made the cut, there’s all kinds of ways to go on that.
I am grateful that I have answered that problem for myself with all the jam I made last summer and fall — jars and jars of it I’ve already mentioned, in a previous sky-minding moment. No one ever complained about getting that jam at Christmas, Easter or the fourth of July. It’s always timely. Something that is homemade with love, and lovingly given, can’t help but please the recipient. If you have no jam from the summer, make marmalade instead. It is never too late to bake cookies for your loved ones or knit a neck warmer. Use big needles and thick yarn — you’ll be done by Christmas day.
Some people need things like new soccer cleats, in order to keep playing soccer, stay healthy, and connected to friends. It’s a good gift to give at Christmas — something that somebody needs, and is grateful to get. Other people could really use a chicken, a goat, or a cow to help their family and/or village eat and survive in a sustainable way.
It is all relative, isn’t it?
As you hurtle toward the end of the year with intermittent stops on the “Give-Way,” whether Hanukah-past, Solstice-present, Christmas-and-Kwanza-future, some gifts give more than others. Ordering something up on Heifer.org to give to persons you do not know in a place you’ve never been, and doing it as a family, a couple, a classroom, a team, or office pool offers the wonderful pleasure of shared generosity which adds a mighty fuel to the fire of your inner lantern.
As for your gratitude list — are there organizations on it which have given you heart, laughs, joy, fun, entertainment, and/or a sense of purpose? If so, I’ll bet 99.9 percent of them are non-profits of one kind or another. When you give to them, you give to yourself. I know that’s what they tout on public radio fund drives all the time — but actually, it’s true. Giving to a non-profit is tax deductible and often generates additional funding through challenge grants. I’m a Freeland resident on South Whidbey, and I’m grateful for so much. I know that even a small contribution to an organization like Whidbey Island Nourishes or Friends of Friends Medical Support Fund , or our beloved Good Cheer Food Bank, can make a BIG difference in many lives in the immediate community.
When you consider how narrow the margins are for how many people in our local area — as demonstrated by the increased number of patrons at the island food banks — you realize how fortunate we all are to live in a place that has these important grass roots support networks in place. Giving gifts locally reinforces that network, which keeps us all, as a community, safe.
And… need I say it? SHOPPING locally does that, too. The sales taxes we pay here, go back into the pot , making it possible for us to have an EMT, a school system, a hospital, a playground in the park, a transit system, and other benefits you would definitely notice if they went missing. When our merchants are successful, they are better able to make substantive contributions to the greater welfare of the community, as well. And believe me, we can do it right here — on any kind of budget, large or small. On the South End, check Good Cheer Thrift Store for hidden treasures, check Webb’s Department Store for sensible things, check Ace Hardware in Freeland and Sebo´s Do-it Center and Jim’s Hardware in Bayview for all things useful, hit up Big Sister women’s clothing store in Langley for magical accoutrements and pretty fancies — they have it all for us the rest of the year, why not shop with them now, when everyone needs the cash flow?
Much of what I am personally grateful for relates to where I live, the people in my greater community, and the love I feel for and with them, which is why I had great fun the other day driving around with visiting writer Dani Shapiro, and showing her the riches of our island life and also, where to shop! She was at Hedgebrook teaching a master class. On her time off, we enjoyed trolling the racks at Good Cheer together. She found a fabulous fancy black, hand-beaded, silk-lined, fine wool sweater for $9! She was ecstatic.
We tasted wine at Ott and Murphy Winery Tasting Room in Langley — all four of their beautiful reds — and she bought a case to take home to Connecticut to share with friends and family. We took in gorgeous drinking glasses at Callahan McVay’s Firehouse Glass Studio, and we ogled the women’s haute couture at Roberta on First Street in Langley. Earlier in the day, we’d been over to Eddy’s Repurposed, a cool holiday pop-up in Freeland, where Dani got several excellent, artist-designed T-shirts for her husband and son. Later, we ambled through fun apparel and classy housewares at The Star Store Mercantile in Langley. I found I could purchase a rubber chicken there at a reasonable price, should I wish to give that as a stocking stuffer to someone special on my list!
There was so much great stuff to see, we didn’t have time to do it all, but I was proud and happy to show her as much as I could the wonderfulness we have to share around here. When your friends and family come visit from off island, show them! what we’ve got here that they can’t find at the mall or on the Internet (even with that special promo code). Show them the beautiful artwork, silks and objects of beauty at the Rob Schouten Gallery at Greenbank Farm. While you’re there, take them for the BEST pie in the world at the Whidbey Pies Café; or head to Langley and show them the gorgeous stuff at the Brackenwood and Museo galleries, and the always tempting selection of cool stuff at Soleil. And don’t forget to show them the view of Saratoga Passage from Village Pizzeria’s new bar and dining room, or, for that matter, don’t forget Freeland and the view of Holmes Harbor from Gordon’s on Blueberry Hill.
Be proud, people, and GRATEFUL for what we’ve got here together; what we’ve made here together, in the way of an interconnected network of friends holding friends up and through the darkest night before the dawn. Hold my hand out there dancing in the moonlight or watching the dawn crack open the sky — hold my hand and we’ll make it through the dark hours together!
When the seasonal noise and the mental clutter settles — in that quiet, still moment of the turning — I wish you love, joy, kindness, equanimity and compassion; all immeasurable gifts you can never get or give enough of.
P.S. On my personal gratitude list this year is this very publication, Whidbey Life Magazine. Because it exists, I can write you these messages that fall from the sky, while I am minding it. If you haven’t already, there still is time, JUST go to the Indiegogo site for the support of this publication’s expansion and continuation. The campaign to reach a modest goal ends tomorrow, Saturday, Dec. 21 — just in time for the darkest night to turn towards the light. Find out more at “Roll the Presses for WLM.”
Judith Walcutt is a writer living, shopping, breathing, and being still on Whidbey Island, with her husband David Ossman, their cat, Catkin Coal, and their seasonally returning, sunny sons, Orson and Preston.
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