Teri Orr: Against the darkness
This time of year, much of my workday happens at night. There are working dinners and events to attend or present. At the very least, there are meetings that extend when the sun has left the sky. Most every day now, I drive home at night.
The past few weeks there were numerous times I would look up in my office and watch the reflection of the sun, setting somewhere behind me, on the mountains and clouds in front of me. I have great views from my current office and yet I often forget to look up from my computer and take a moment to honor the dimming of the day.
But driving home from anywhere in the county right now is a treat. I don’t think you can travel a country mile anywhere on surface roads and not see holiday lights. Simple strands that outline a house can make it appear to be some kind of gingerbread creation. Bright multi-colored strands woven through a dozen trees create a kind of Seusical look that is both jarring and comical. There are inflatable Santas and reindeer and Snoopys on display on porches and roofs.
Tiny white lights frame banks and boutiques and large home windows that face the street. Inside some of those homes the drapes aren’t drawn and you see giant twinkling trees reach ceilings. You imagine packages carefully wrapped with bright bows perfectly tied.
There are light displays in lots of towns in anywhere USA. They often compete with one another in music-synced efforts to blink and move. And while there may be a house with music here, I confess I’ve not seen/heard one.
The lights here belong. In a city, lights are simply part of the noise. Bright lights, big city surprises no one. But in a more rural setting the lights seem to speak to the darkness. You light the lights to show the way.
It is the season to do so.
This next week starts Hanukkah and the eight nights of lighting the lights, a Jewish holiday that Jewish folks are quick to point has little actual religious meaning. It celebrates the end of a war period when oil was scarce and it was feared there wouldn’t be enough oil left to last more than one night. But the miracle happened, the oil lasted for eight full nights and the people celebrated. Now, of course, that simple story has morphed into eight nights of gift giving and lavish dinners and greeting cards all its own. I have, on occasion, seen white lights displaying a menorah on a home here, but it is rare.
In the Christian tradition it is the time of the birth of Jesus, now hotly debated from the actual time of year and the actual location to the hair and eye and skin color of that baby. The light tradition really comes down to a single star story that lit the darkened sky and led three wise men in the direction of a manager where the new baby lay. But no one would argue this holiday has now become the pinnacle of consumption-from gifts to food to alcohol to bad movies. Quiet reflection is rarely mentioned nor sought. It is a time when we measure stuff and invitations and confections.
Those lights here at night against the darkened sky that dance under a kind of snow globe writ large when the snow falls, always seem welcoming and warm. You imagine knocking on the door and being ushered into a home with a blazing fire and friendly folks and cheerful conversation with gentle music.
Right now, a bunch of us are talking about when we "get the tree, put it up, shop, get packages in the mail, bake and plan" for The Holidays. We are consumed with our consuming. But there is another way to see all this and it takes no investment except time and it favors no religion.
Try to be the light. Be the light.
Just open the door for the person struggling with an armful of stuff or tiny children hanging off limbs. Grab the loose cart in the parking lot and take it back inside the store. Pay for the hot chocolate for the person behind you. Buy a bag a groceries and offer it to the first harried person you see as you exit the store. Scrape off the other guy’s windshield. Put down your phone, for an entire meeting, and just meet, eye to eye. Buy a favorite book and leave it unwrapped for a colleague with a tiny note… "This made me think of you."
The way the planets have aligned, for as long we understand it all, this time marks the shortest of days and the longest of nights. Nights that can seem so unimaginably dark when it feels like everyone else is filled with happy families and warmth and plenty to eat and warm clothes and joy. One small light can make the darkness go away, if only for a little while.
It doesn’t take much to be the light. And like the oil, miracles can happen and time and dimension can expand and extend. A single star or person can break the darkness, lead the way… in can happen in the smallest of ways… night after night after night after Sunday night in the Park….
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
“If you cannot love your neighbor as yourself, no matter who they are, start by looking in the mirror and see what changes need to be made from within.”