Thursday, December 31, 2009

Recalled to Life

The last day of December is here, and snow is finally falling in earnest. This year, instead of greeting us by flinging ample handfuls of snow across our rooftops, Winter clenched his fists and blew long, icy breaths over the wheat fields, leaving the landscape grey and parched. He blasted the streets and yards with dry, bitterly cold wind—the kind that freeze dries your lips when you inhale; the kind that quite literally takes your breath away, sending it skyward in toothpaste-scented clouds.

We spent the first weeks of Advent wrapped like mummies in layer upon layer of apparel, our scarves, like unraveling grave clothes, trailing behind us in the lifeless breeze. During those frigid days in early December, when my fingers and toes felt as cold and lifeless as those of the walking dead, my heart miraculously kept up its warm and merry march somewhere underneath all those wrappings.

Here, in the bleak midwinter, we are all dead men walking; we are all Lazarus come from the tomb, with warmth and breath and lifeblood in motion where no motion should rightly be. What a shock to find ourselves alive and on our feet, our shame covered and our limbs warm. What can account for it? None of our wilting fig leaves, however artfully arranged, could have held up against the wind rising from the valley of the shadow. We have been recalled to life, and we step out of our tombs, blinking from the brightness, wrapped up in apparel not of our own making, clothed in skins not our own.

Lazarus's grave clothes may not have been the bright blue parka and striped wool scarf that I wear, but to live and breathe is nearly as startling for me as it was for him. Finding life in winter is like finding a shiny quarter on a muddy street; a red cardinal on leafless branch; a sudden peal of laughter on a sleepy afternoon; a Bethlehem star and a chorus of angels in a black sky. It's an orange stroller, a blue coat and five pairs of pink cheeks splashing color along an icy sidewalk.

I am surprised to discover that the dark and deadly cold outside is no match for the warmth I and my children carry with us. There in the midst of December's biting breath, we could laugh in the face of the cold and dark and step confidently out the door, armed with nothing but coats, gloves, and life itself. Even so, when the temperatures dipped below zero, I wrapped my scarf a little tighter and stepped a little faster as the dry winter wind wound serpentine trails close upon our heels.

And then came the rain. The iced melted, the mud softened, and a mock-Spring arrived. But no birds sang. And nobody was fooled. December can dress himself like April, but he cannot make the flowers bud.

Christmas arrived, and a white one, at that—white in the way a chocolate cake dusted with powdered sugar is "white." And all the warmth and color and brightness of that festal day sent true Spring-like hope through the frozen earth. How fitting that we spangle the streets with white and multi-colored strings of stars; no other time of year is in so much need of color and light. Christmas is nearly the darkest day of the year. And yet, save one other day, it is the brightest. In the midst of wintry death, we find life of the truest kind.

Now, as December draws to a close, snow is falling at last. It covers the yard and the trees and the roof over our heads. Although it is growing dark outside as I write this, I know that tonight will be bright with six-pointed stars. And in the morning, the earth will be clothed in a white shroud, waiting to be recalled to life. On the first morning of the New Year, the earth will be wrapped in a pristine blanket, waiting for color and warmth and laughter to burst upon it, to roll across it, to breathe life into the glittering air.


Kjerste said...

Saw your title and immediately was reminded of A Tale of Two Cities. I've been thinking often of Madame Defarge as I knit these days. I suppose having been forgiven and "recalled to life" ourselves, we should be willing to forgive the wrongs done against us. Perhaps I'll unknit my children's names from my current project and give them a fresh start tomorrow.

Happy new year!

Jessica said...
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Jessica said...
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