Some years are more difficult than others – 365 day periods when loss piles upon loss, when challenges appear at every turn. In the aftermath, recollections of pleasant events, travels and new friends may be hidden among the difficult memories of those times. If we’re lucky, the year passes and we move into a more hopeful period.
2014 has been one of those years for me, one I compare to the year 2000. In both years, my spouse and I each lost a parent. Well-loved pets died, three this year and two in 2000. For my husband Ron and me, the challenges of caring for each of our aging parents meant time away from each other as we helped wrap up our parents’ affairs and held vigil at the bedside when they were both in hospice care. It fell to the other one to take care of household tasks.
In his poem, “A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy’s Day,” John Donne called the longest night in December, December 21, “the year’s midnight.” When I learned of this poem, and especially that designation for the longest night of the year, the term especially resonated for me. The celebration of St. Lucy is one of light amidst the darkness, especially for peoples in the northern-most part of Europe.
Twice I have found in nature a balm for the bleakness. In the year 2000, Ron served as a Fulbright scholar in Chile which allowed us to travel this country of many countries–each of its five regions being distinct. A few days before we were about to leave for home, I found out that my father’s cancer had advanced and had become terminal. Our last trip in the country was to Chile’s lake region, a beautiful area south of the capital of Santiago. On our short visit, we’d both been disappointed as the lakes and volcanoes we’d come to see were obscured by a steady rain and thick fog as Chile’s winter approached. Near Lake Llanquihue, we stopped in a park and walked a path through a misty enclave surrounded by trees, the stones in the stream that ran through it illuminated by a bioluminescent and otherworldly green.
As we walked through that place showing signs of both life and death, the experience brought into focus that life-death cycle in a calming way, a way devoid of fear. I wished that my father could be there to experience it, too.
When we returned two years later during a Chilean summer of balmy weather and sunny skies, the volcano that had been so close to us as we walked that trail revealed itself. But as beautiful as the volcano was, the trail below it that I remembered had disappeared and in its place appeared a completely different one drenched in sunlight.
Early in the month of December of this year, two visions of the moon did their best to pull me back into that misty enclave. The moon appeared in a sky like I’d never remembered seeing, a sky at that point of blue turning to black and the full moon surrounded by a halo of light. The next night, after dark, I saw the moon through tree branches appearing to reach out for the lunar light. The branches belonged to a tree outside the house next door, once home to a neighbor who died just a few months before after a lengthy and debilitating illness. Both were life amidst the darkness, a sign of promise of a new day to come.
So I share this second moon with all who’ve passed and those of us left behind. We move into a new year with hope for more light and life. I wish that to everyone whose year has been a challenge as I pluck from John Donne these few lines that resonate with that hope:
Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.