Saturday, December 15, 2007
Shining our lights against the darkness
When I was a little girl living in Laos, I remember one day there was a commotion outside our house. We went outside and discovered that the sun was being eclipsed by the moon. A crowd had formed on the dirt road and many of the men had shotguns. My father could speak Lao (he never met a language he didn't learn) and found out that in Lao mythology it waas thought that, at such times, a huge frog is eating the sun. It sounds ludicrous here and now. But at the time - watching the strange dusk falling in the middle of the day, seeing flocks of confused birds fleeing to their roosts, hearing the wild dogs howling - it seemed entirely possible. As the frog took bigger and bigger bites out of the sun, men began shooting up into the sky, trying to kill or chase away the frog. I realize, now, that we were probably in some danger of being hit by bullets falling to earth, but it was an amazing thing to be part of. It was one of the great things about my father; he always charged headlong into the worlds we lived in, whether it was sensible or not. And he always took us along for the ride.
And here, on this gray December day, a world away from that sun-drenched place, it's afternoon and the sun is setting. The light is weaker and and the days shorter. The nights are long and cold. All up and down my street, my neighbors have wrapped their trees and porches in light, draped greenery on their snowy houses, brought trees indoors. If you look at it objectively, it's as logical as, though probably less dangerous than, shooting a giant frog in the sky. The Lao knew that, whether or not they shot that frog, the sun would come back. We know that, whether or not we drape our dwellings with evergreens and light the long night with artificial lights, the days will, eventually, grow longer again. But it's like knocking wood or saying "God Bless You" after a sneeze; we do it just in case.....
And it's incredibly touching to me, one of those things that shows us all in our most basic humanity - banding together in the darkness, shining lights to push it away. In Judaism there is the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days instead of one. In Christianity there is the star that guided the wise men to the baby Jesus. In Asia there is the Lunar New Year, with people wearing red, the color of luck, and setting off fire crackers to scare away the bad spirits. All of us doing our bit to roll the world back toward light.
So whether you lit Hanukkah candles, are trimming a tree, or are chanting at a Buddhist altar - or you're shooting at frogs in the sky - I hope there is light enough, warmth enough, and love enough around you to push the darkness back for another year.