light in the darkness

“Night walks with a heavy step
Round yard and hearth,
As the sun departs from earth,
Shadows are brooding.
There in our dark house,
Walking with lit candles,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!”

Lucy was so excited. I told her that morning we would be going to her friends’ Rosie and Meredith’s house for caroling that evening. She clapped and jumped up and down at the breakfast table. Each morning, we have been opening a red envelope. Danny and I collaborated for days before the 1st of December, coming up with activities for the holidays we could do with Lu each day. Go to the community tree lighting. Have a picnic under the Christmas tree. Pick out presents to give to the toy drive.

It’s an active advent calendar, counting down the days until the 25th. Frankly, I’ve been enjoying this far more than I might enjoy the 25th. Watching Lu’s face as we rode the holiday carousel in downtown Seattle last weekend made me happier than I have been in a long time. Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” came on, and Danny and I started singing as our horses rose up and down next to Lucy’s. She watched us singing for a few verses and then joined in the chorus with us by the end. I’ll never forget that joy.

December 13th was easy. Santa Lucia Day. Or, as we called it, Lucy Day.

Santa Lucia herself was from Italy. According to mythology, she gave her dowry to the poor, which made her fiance disown her. She was blinded, burned in oil, and refused to die for a long time. Later, she was made a saint and adopted by the Scandinavians, who love her story.

We didn’t tell this story to Lucy or the other girls, however. We simply told them that Santa Lucia gave everything she had to the poor and she brought light in the darkness. My friend Gwen sent me this little video of Santa Lucia celebrations in Norway to show to Lucy. She was entranced.

And of course, Lucia means Lucy, which means light. She has always been our light.

Traditionally, there’s only one Lucia in the procession of girls. But each of these four young girls wanted a crown of lights. The older girls had candles. Lu and Rosie had makeshift crowns of white Christmas lights wrapped around their heads.

They were so pleased.

And so we walked, from door to door in the dark neighborhood. Gwen had filled small white wicker baskets with satsumas and a small scroll with the lyrics of the song we were singing. When a door opened, one girl offered a basket to the people in their home. And then we all stood at the doorway and sang.

“Night walks grand, yet silent,
Now hear its gentle wings,
In every room so hushed,
Whispering like wings.
Look, at our threshold stands,
White-clad with light in her hair,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!”

Nearly every adult who opened the door to these girls swathed in light and their parents singing had tears in his or her eyes by the end.

Gwen carried a large lantern. She told me it had been her grandparents’ lantern. When a tornado threatened to touch down on their farm in Ohio, they carried the children and this lantern down into the cellar and closed the doors, hoping for the best.

It lit our way through the dark neighborhood that night.

“Darkness shall take flight soon,
From earth’s valleys.
So she speaks a
Wonderful Word to us:
A new day will rise again
From the rosy sky…
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!”

All the neighbors were moved by the singing, the small girls, the light in the darkness. One family, whom our friends were starting to know well, thanked us profusely when the song was done. As we walked down the wet steps toward the street, they called out, “Would you like to help us light the menorah?”

We all felt honored to be there in that moment.

That was Thursday night.

I woke up Friday morning, still thinking about the singing, the satsumas, the neighbors, the goodness. I drove Lucy to preschool and we talked about the caroling during the car ride there. I stopped for a green smoothie and supergreens salad from my favorite little cafe on Vashon, which were so beautiful I took a photo of them and put it on Twitter. And then I reached home and turned on the computer to read the news.

And then I stopped breathing for a few moments. I’m not sure I’ve let out my breath since.

Friday night, Lucy and I curled up in my bed in our pajamas. We read book after book — Frog and Toad, Henry and Mudge, Maurice Sendak, and the first chapter of Wizard of Oz. I kept kissing the top of her head. Her cheeks were pink with laughter and a warm bath. After the last book, I cuddled her in and held her until she fell asleep. And then I started sobbing.

There are no words for what happened at Sandy Hook elementary school. As a mama, a former teacher, a human — I can’t get it out of my mind. And I’m not sure that anyone needs my words on this. What words can I share to serve as balm or explanation? All I know is that I have never held Lucy so close as I have the last few days. Danny’s finally home after a long week away and we’re holding each other.

I’ve been reading this poem, often. And this one:

“Trying to Pray

This time, I have left my body behind me, crying
In its dark thorns.
There are good things in this world.
It is dusk.
It is the good darkness
Of women’s hands that touch loaves.
The spirit of a tree begins to move.
I touch leaves.
I close my eyes and think of water.”
—-James Arlington Wright

I close my eyes and think of light in the darkness.

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