On the Darkest Night
On this darkest night,
Shivering birds take flight,
Flee the bitter cold
Ere Winter takes hold.
In our Winter, we
Too from darkness flee,
Turn from ceaseless strife,
Seeking hope in life.
Yet soon the Earth will turn,
The days grow warm and long,
And with their joyful song,
The birds will then return.
So as the bleak year's done,
May we with hope now greet,
Go forth in peace to meet
The new with voices one.
May we wisdom and love,
Goodwill and caring learn,
And from our hatred turn
To seek light from above.
But first, this darkest night,
Let us be still, let us pause,
Listen to nobler cause,
And then go forth renewed,
Emerging from our night
To seek the New Year's Light.
Solstice Once Again
Once again the year turns,
Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn
And back to Winter. And once again,
Looking back and looking forward,
It seems nothing has changed:
War, strife, bitter elections,
Bickering, ill will, me against you
Us versus them …
Last year, the year before,
This year, and next…
Will it never change?
Will we never learn?
But now, this darkest, longest
of nights, look up to the stars,
Share their unwavering light.
Night after night.
Watch the moon
Pass through its phases
Month after month,
Year after year.
Note the ocean tides,
Highs and lows, flowing
In and out, ever changing,
Yet ever the same.
Are we then, just a part of this vast,
Limitless Universe that spirals
Relentlessly carrying all with it,
Changing yet unchanging?
We, but a bit of dust,
No matter how loud we shout.
So let us not worry too much
About our insignificant,
Actions and words.
But look to the skies,
The stars and beyond.
Marvel at the pictures
The telescopes send us,
Hear the planets sing.
Find hope and solace
In this Infinite Space
Our tiny selves.
Some children were drawing and coloring. But more were sitting with their heads down or just staring into space. A few were crying quietly.
The teachers stood watching the children. What should they do? Let them be or try to entertain them somehow?
They children had, of course, been fed and cleaned up first when they arrived. Their clothes were dirty and torn, their faces streaked with dirty tears, some even had blood stains on their hands, the shirts, their heads. They had been tended to and cleaned up, while the seriously injured had been transported to the hospital. These children at the school were the “lucky” ones, who had escaped injury. Most had arrived with their parents who were now being given spaces to make their own, a tiny makeshift home in this place of peace amid the war. The teachers had taken the older children to the playroom so the parents would have time and quiet to settle into their quarters.
The teachers watched and talked quietly among themselves. How could they best soothe the children, help them ignore what was going on outside the school’s doors, help them go back to being children for a little while? The circumstances of this war were such that the children came from many different lands of different languages and customs, with little in common. All were strangers in this land.
But they were children after all. And children all share many things in common, one teacher said. They like to play, they like to sing, they run and shout. And they like to draw, another added. That’s it, let’s give them paper and let them draw.
So the teachers put papers on the tables and put crayons on some tables and paint on others. They went over to the children and quietly, gently suggested they come to the tables. A few did so. Then a few more came when they saw what the others were doing. Soon most of the children were drawing. Some just scribbled, others drew standard flowers and trees and stick figures, and still others drew images of war, the war they knew only too well.
Then something new happened. One child looked at another’s drawing of a flower and in his language, said, “That’s a pretty flower.” And he drew one too. Another child drew a family then turned to the teacher and pointing to each figure, gave their name. The teacher repeated each name after the child. Another child furtively looked at her neighbor’s picture and began to copy it. The other child saw this and moved his paper closer so the other child could see better. She smiled at him.
Then it was time to stop so the children could go to their parents and be served dinner. A few children had no family there. One girl spoke to her mother and father then gestured to a boy that he should join her family. The boy smiled and nodded and the girl took his hand.
The teachers cleaned up the tables then hung the children’s art work on the wall.
The art time went on for the next few days. The teachers added outside activities such as soccer. It seemed that kids all over the world knew how to play soccer. Now they began to open up and use their voices, communicating any way they knew how. Some girls began to play jacks with stones. It appeared that all knew the game in one form or another.
But it was the art that brought out the deep emotions in these war-scarred children. More and more pictures were of buildings being bombed, drones and airplanes, rubble, people without arms or legs. And blood. Oh so much blood that the red crayons were worn to stubs. The teachers wondered what to do about this. They knew the children needed to draw these things to work out their emotions but they also wanted to lead them to a more positive view, to promote healing.
One day, a girl drew a flag of her nation, with a blue star in the middle. The boy next to her pointed and said, “star” in his language. Then he drew the flag of his nation, with a yellow star on a red background. Another child saw this and drew his country’s flag, also with a star, but a green one. This school for refugees, where all were right now, was a school run by the United Nations. The teachers too, were from many different countries. They were also teachers. They knew that children love flags for their colors and designs. Most of the children at the art table were too young to know the political meanings of their country’s flag. But all were soon noticing the stars on many of the flags.
One teacher had an idea. What does a star represent, she asked the other teachers. Peace, answered one. Hope, said another. Freedom. Light. Yes, light, the light of freedom, of the people, of a nation at peace.
And now the teachers had an idea. Here was something concrete these children had in common. And tomorrow was the Winter Solstice, which would occur in the heavens all over their hemisphere, over half of the Earth, while the other half experienced the Summer Solstice. An event observed and celebrated by people since ancient times, one many cultures and religions had adopted and turned into a holiday of light. Tomorrow, they too, would celebrate this event that all would have in common, no matter the difference in their language, their culture, their religion.
So the next day, the teachers called all the children together into the large courtyard. They invited the adults to join in as well. They put out chalk of many colors and told all to draw a star, one that represented their hopes, a brighter future, their dreams. Everyone worked with intense concentration. Many even ignored the sounds of renewed bombing, so intent were they on their creations. They were well used to the sound by now. And when the teachers called time, all stood up and stepped back. A parent took her child’s hand. That child took the hand of the child next to him. Who took the hand of a man he had never seen before. The man smiled at him. He knew the child was from the other side, but this was a child, not an enemy. Soon all the people in the circle were holding hands.
One of the teachers started singing a song of peace, a song she knew from her culture but that was a tune known by many. The people in the circle joined in. It was a simple song, with repeated words and a simple melody and soon almost all were singing it as well.
Up in the sky, the clouds parted. The moon had not yet risen. And up in that dark expanse of space, the stars began to appear. One star, in particular, shone brightly. All looked up, watched the star and fell silent.
For some reason, the sound of bombshells stopped just then as well.
And for a moment, just a moment, peace reigned in this little space, this haven, this war torn region.
And now, in the middle of their circle, a couple of the nurses and doctors knelt down to draw. One outlined a very large star. Another drew a star atop it at a slight angle. Then a child’s father knelt down and drew another large star in a different color. One by one, the adults knelt down to draw another star atop the first ones. Until they had one large star with a multitude of points and in every color of any flag. This was their star. A doctor and a nurse, tired as they were from the day’s duties, stepped into the center of the star. The doctor spoke:
“This is our star, not the star of just one nation but the star of all nations, all people on Earth. Let it be called the Star of Peace.”
The people didn’t cheer. Instead the children stared in wonder while the adults bowed their heads and each in their own way lifted up prayers that the world might know peace again and offered thanks to this place of peace, where all were welcomed and cared for, no matter their religion, beliefs or nationality. Then all watched in silence as the Peace Star glittered and glowed in the setting Winter Solstice sun. And after the sun set, they continued to watch as the brightest star appeared In the sky, shining its bright light upon them all. The Star of Peace.
Once there was a woman who lived alone in a small cottage in the woods with her little dog. She was quite content with her life. Although she was a loner, occasionally she was lonely and wished for human companionship. For while the dog was a dear companion, she did not speak and so the woman had little conversation.
One evening the woman fell and hurt her arm. It was not a serious injury, but it needed medical attention. What should she do? Should she just bear the pain or should she find a way to the doctor? But the doctor was in the city, a long way from her little cottage. And she did not think she could drive her little donkey cart that far.
As the woman sat, trying to think through the pain, she saw a bright star in the darkening sky. One she had never seen before. Then to her wonder, the star’s points broke apart and began to fall towards Earth. Had the star exploded? Would it engulf the Earth?
The woman and the dog went outdoors and watched in wonder as the points of the star turned into white doves that fluttered down to them. The doves flew around them then settled on the woman’s head, her hand, and at her feet, cooing among themselves.
One dove flew up and was now a shimmering white angel.
“Come, “ she said to the hurt woman. “Come inside and I will tend to you.”
And she did. She got the woman into a chair, brought her water, and bandaged her wound. Then she played soothing music on a lyre until the woman fell asleep.
The next morning, the woman awakened, with the dog at her side. She felt better and wondered if it had all been a dream. But no. The moment she turned on her side, her arm wrenched and she called out in pain. And there was the angel standing in the doorway.
“I will help you,” the angel said. “Stay right there.” And the angel set out clothing and helped the woman wash and get dressed.
When they went into the other room, there sat two other angels. One said to the first angel, “I will go get food.” The third angel bustled around the house, cleaning and tending to the chores.
And so it went. The woman could rest and walk around the house, while the angels did all the work. The first angel received a call from Heaven to go help elsewhere. But meanwhile, the third, fourth and fifth points of the star had materialized and each one did her part. Two took the woman wherever she needed to go, the second angel continued to provide food, and the fifth helped her with any heavy lifting she needed done. Whenever the angels had finished helping, they would turn into doves and fly in the sky or perch on the tall pines.
With all this help, the woman healed quickly. Soon she was able to dress herself. Then she began to prepare her own meals. And finally one day, she tried driving her donkey cart.
As the woman became more independent, the angels became doves more and more often, letting the woman tend to herself. But they still checked in with her and helped as needed, as well as providing comfort and solace.
Soon it was the time of Winter Solstice. The angels told the woman that it was time for them to go perform their celestial duties. So they all went out into the dark night. The woman watched as one by one, the angels turned back into doves and flew high in the sky towards the North Star.
As she watched, she heard them sing, “Good bye. We will be here if you ever need us and we will come to visit once in a while just to see you and the dog. Watch for white doves.”
The woman was so happy. She not only was healing and had received the help she needed, but now she knew that the angel-doves would always be there for her. She turned to her dog. “I think we made some friends.” The dog wagged her tail in agreement.
The woman and her dog went into their little house and the woman lit a Solstice candle In the dark. And ever after, on the Solstice the doves would come to the little house to pay a visit and celebrate with the woman and her dog.
With many thanks to my doves, who helped in so many ways