24 December 2015

I Wish You Peace and Light In These Dark Times


Stonehenge in the Midwinter Snow
Image source: http://www.disclose.tv

NB: This is a slightly modified post from years past that I wanted to reuse for Christmas.

It's a little out of character for me to write a blog post that is about neither books nor travel.  It’s also a little out of character to share many of my personal details in such a public space, but I’ve been away from the blogosphere since April, and I’ve had many supportive inquiries from readers.  2015 has been a very difficult year, which has marked, among other things, the death of one of my cats, the imminent death of my dog, the most difficult and exhausting time at work I’ve ever survived, and above all, the dissolution of my marriage.

Among the collateral damage of the latter was a swift blow to my ability to read, a blow that I’ve only lately been recovering from and am still not back to normal. Thus this holiday season has been far more emotional and challenging than most, and it’s the first time in my life that I’ve ever been alone on Christmas Eve, a day which has been far more important to me (and my family) than Christmas itself.

There's a Christmas song lingering in my mind right now that I have been listening to more or less on a loop for  the last couple of days.  I love sacred Christmas carols, though I'm not Christian, or at least I’m not a Christian if by “Christian,” you mean somebody who believes that Jesus Christ is the offspring of God. Agnostic, I suppose, is the proper term for me.  Perhaps a cultural Episcopalian is a little more specific. But if by “Christian,” you mean somebody who thinks that guy Jesus Christ was a revolutionary ahead of his time, especially his ideas regarding the treatment of the disenfranchised, then maybe the term fits.

Whatever inclination toward the sacred that remains buried in me always feels deeply disheartened by the relentless commercialism of a secular Christmas; thus, my recent mental soundtrack of Loreena McKennitt's performance of Good King Wenceslas.

As far as I know, it is the only Christmas carol that remains as relevant today as it ever did.   Regardless of any divine context,  a couple of millennia ago, give or take, this guy Jesus did some pretty revolutionary stuff.  I'm prepared to accept that at face value, if not his divinity.  But what does the celebration of his birth mean for the world today, all those angels and mangers  and glorias in excelsis deo*? For my money, it's the et in terra pax ominibus** that is so important, so relevant today, yet so sorely lacking in our current times where grace and graciousness are endangered species.  

With the changing of just two little words so the song is non gender-specific or non-religious specific, Good King Wenceslas is what speaks to me tonight and all year 'round: give of yourself, give of your time, share what you have, even especially if it takes you out of your comfort zone.  It's pretty simple.  Here are the lyrics, with my slight modifications in place.  Maybe they will speak to you, too.

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
Where the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gathering winter fuel.

"Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know'st it, telling--
Yonder peasant, who is he? 
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence,
By St. Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh and bring me wine, 
Bring me pine logs hither.
Thou and I shall see him dine
When we bring them thither."
Page and monarch forth they went,
Forth they went together.
Heedless of the wind's lament
And the bitter weather.

"Sire, the night grows darker now
And the wind blows stronger.
Fails my heart, I know not how.
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page.
Tread thou in them boldly.
Thou shall find the winter's rage
Freeze the blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted.
Heat was in the very sod
Which the saint had printed.
Therefore, all good folk, be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing:
You who now shall bless the poor
Shall yourself find blessing.

It's not just the song, for me, but also the arrangement that is so important.  I love the melding of a traditional western carol with Celtic and Middle Eastern musical elements and the instruments you don't normally hear outside a medieval/Renaissance festival. The Middle Eastern aspect actually places the song in a historical context like never before, and it’s an important signpost in these dark times when many Americans think Islamophobia is the way to go.

I hope, wherever you are, that you find peace in your heart during these darkest days of the year. 

* Glory to God in the highest
**And on earth, peace to all people

33 comments:

  1. Sorry to hear of your difficult times - as you say especially hard at this time of year. I have checked into your blog regularly to see how you are and you have been in my thoughts.

    My kindest wishes are with you.
    Jan

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    1. Thanks, Jan. I appreciate your kind words and I hope that perhaps 2016 will enable me to return to my old favorites: books, blogging, traveling, etc. I hope you and your family have had a good holiday season.

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  2. MERRY CHRISTMAS! Screw 2015. 2016 is where it's at.

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  3. Thank you for your update. Though you certainly don't owe any of your readers one, I'm sure many of them have been concerned by your silence (as I have been). May you find peace as well, particularly as you say goodbye to your pup (oh, what a difficult and heartbreaking thing it is to lose such a source of pure love!) and as you start what will hopefully be a better year.

    Reading has always been my deepest pleasure and this spring I found myself unable to read after beginning some medical treatment. It was incredibly challenging to not be able to lose myself in a book (the easiest and best escape from reality for my whole life!) during a time when I sorely needed to not be rattling around in my own head. I imagine you felt the loss of reading as much as I did. I am easing my way back in now and I will keep my eye on this page in hopes that you are too! In the meantime, I will send all of my best wishes and warm thoughts your way!!

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    1. That’s very kind of you to say. I know that many readers here know the terrible loss of losing a pet.

      Here’s hoping that both of us will rekindle the easy relationship we’ve had with books and that we can stop “rattling around in [our] own head[s].” I send those best wishes and warm thoughts right back to you.

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  4. Dear Emily: Your thoughtful writing, your wit, and your always cheerful spirit have been missed. I think of you often and hope you are well. I wish you Peace, Love, and much much Happiness, now, and in the coming new year. EllenG

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    1. Thanks, Ellen. I wish the same things for you in the coming year, too. May we be lucky enough to cross paths in Anguilla in the coming year!

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  5. I am so so sorry Emily! I’ve missed you so much on this blog, your sad news today is hard to read. To be honest, knowing something was seriously wrong I immediately went to a bad place, thinking you were terminally ill. I know your life has taken a huge hit but I’m so happy to hear my fears were wrong. As painful as this period is, you’ll come back. You’re a lovely, fantastic person and will continue to live a full purposeful life. In the meantime I know you’ll find the strength to deal with the sheer abundance of massive and seemingly unfair loss in your life, and knowing, I hope, how many people care about you.

    Keep the faith — mine is much like yours, by the way — sending you heartfelt hugs. So happy to see you back, Sim

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    1. Thanks, Sim. You’re still the first person I think of whenever I hear about a new book-to-film adaptation. Now that I’m back online again (sort of -- in small doses), I hope to catch up on reading your fantastic blog to keep myself abreast of what’s happening with some of my favorite books. LIke Billy Lynn!

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    2. I just saw you’ve left a couple of comments. Welcome back and thanks for the support!

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  6. I am truly sorry to hear of your very sad year. As a follower of your blog and fellow Anguilla lover I wish you many happy books and travels in the future. I hope to see more posts as I've missed your blog, good luck and best wishes.

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    1. THank you very much, and I wish all of the same good fortune and best wishes to you, too.

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  7. Merry Christmas, Emily! Thank you for sharing this beautiful post. Good King Wenceslas is one of my very favorite carols as well, it's so beautiful.

    I hope 2016 is restorative for you, and that it holds new happiness and joy.

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    1. I'm so glad you like the carol, too. I have the feeling it's much more popular in the UK than it is here. Hope that your 2016 is full of travel and new adventures for you!

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  8. As Red said above - goodbye 2015 and here's to a 2016 full of well-deserved happiness, peace, and adventures!

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    1. Thanks, Jen. And may our paths cross in Anguilla one day!

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  9. I'm glad to find you back, too! Although I've still been reading a lot, 2015 hasn't been a good year for me, especially the last few months -- for blogging, career, medical, and otherwise -- so here's to a better year in 2016 for all of us!

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    1. Thanks, Laurie. I'm sorry to hear your news. I've not been reading blogs much this year, either, so I'm missing out on others' lives. I wish you health and peace and purpose in 2016.

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  10. Dear sweet girl. How you've been missed out here! I am a Christian so I pray for you - for whatever that is worth ;-) I know that you have struggled. You are in my thoughts. I wish a blessed and bright 2016 for you. Love, Belle

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    1. Oh, Belle, you're always the sweetest. I'm thankful for your prayers. I still pray, too, and I hope that your 2016 is equally bright.

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  11. I hope that 2016 will be a blessed and more upbeat year for you, 2015 sounds like a very tough year. I am a newer follower of your blog and look forward to more of your posts.

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    1. THanks, Terra, and I look forward to getting to know you a bit as we go into the new year.

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  12. You've certainly been in my thoughts. Sending good wishes and the best vibrations I can muster your way.

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  13. I'm so glad to hear your voice again - you've been close to my heart during your silence. Your humor and joy have brightened up so many of my days, and it's been hard to know that you've been hurting. Here's to finding books that are salve to your soul instead of a reminder of stress and sorrow! Did I tell you I got to go to Anguilla in June? We weren't there long enough but at least now I can say I've been to one of your favorite spots. :)

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    1. Well damnation! I’m glad you were able to visit Anguilla, and I look forward to hearing about your reading and house remodeling adventures.

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  14. Thank you for your thoughtful and transparent reflection of 2016. Though I've "liked" and commented to show my support on Facebook, I can't imagine what a hard year it has been for you and applaud your strength and resilience. Here's to a fresh and happier start in 2016!

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    1. Thanks so much, and I wish the same for you in 2016, too!

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  15. Emily, thanks for this post. I too had been concerned about you and am glad at least to know what's up. So sorry to hear of your losses. It seems that life has a way of kicking you when you're down. One day it will turn around for you. Listen to "Northern Girl" by Cheryl Wheeler in the meantime. Take care of yourself, with best wishes from your fellow bibliophile and Anguilla lover.

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    1. I don’t know “Northern Girl,” but obviously I must look it up. Thanks for your support!

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  16. I'm so sorry. I think 2015 was an entirely sucky year for far too many of us. And if you like Celtic types of carols, check out a CD called The Wexford Carols. It was my go-to for comfort this season.

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    1. The Wexford Carols sounds vaguely familiar, but they are most certainly going to be up my alley. Thank you for your kind words.

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Please, sir, may I have some more? (Comments, that is!)