I'm not usually an early riser -- it's rare that I see a summer sunrise. But I see them in December, as the days begin and end gilded in pink and yellow and gold. The colors seem distant but promising as I drink my morning coffee, elegiac as I walk the halls at work and catch a last glimpse of today's sky before it's time to go home.
Our struggles are long, but life is short, and we never quite grasp all that we reach for. Yet we keep going.
I spent a long afternoon with my son Kris on Monday. He has ALS and, no longer able to work as a special ed teacher, is at home with a caregiver during the day, while his wife, Michelle, heads off to her job as an art teacher at a K-5 public school that serves children from low-income families, children whose home lives are often chaotic.
Kris sent me into the kitchen of their home, to look at the glass star hanging in the window by the sink. "We finally got it up," he said. "You gave that to us." My mind was blank at first, but then I remembered thick tissue wrapped around the glass. Where had I bought it, this arty Christmas decoration? Ah, in a little store in Granville, Ohio, where I drove to pick up my younger son, Kurt, from college, two Decembers ago.
"I am trying to get some things done around here," said Kris. "since I have the time to take care of these little things."
Getting it done meant seeing that it got done--the stick-on Command hook purchased and placed, the star hung, either by Michelle or by Emily, the caregiver, who gets him up, showered and dressed on weekday mornings, who does their laundry, makes lunch--cares for things, supervised by Kris.
Do the next thing. Do the little things. Here, in this moment, but with care for the future.
That star in Kris and Michelle's window has five irregular points--cobalt blue and bright yellow drawn into each one by the craftsman who shaped the glass. There were many stars hanging in the store where I bought it--each one different, each one formed by skill and happy accident. Each one, I suppose, a next thing, requiring care and attention before moving on.
The world seems particularly overwhelming to me this Christmas. In our family, it's the pull of ALS, drawing Kris ever deeper into motionlessness. In the news, it's a will to power, pulling politicians to lash out in ways that enrich the privileged few at the expense of the downtrodden.
Restore us, O God; let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved. (Psalm 80:3)But how? How are we saved? In the shining light of a December sunrise? In the smeared beauty of the rose colors rising above the horizon at the end of the day? Or in the dark night, the shining stable, the angels that filled the sky over Bethlehem and brought heaven's light to earth? Light that arrived as Mary labored, each pain a next thing. Light that spread as shepherds watched over the little lambs, caring for their flock's future.
God's light--shining from the distant sun, shining in us in the darkness. Stir up your power, O God, and come!