The neighbor to our west has spent the better part of the afternoon stringing lights along his roof line. As the darkness has settled, I can see the strands glowing from our dining room window. The outline of their gray farmhouse twinkling through the fog. We do not know these neighbors well, and yet tonight I am struck by how glad I am for them. How thankful I am this near-stranger has pulled out his ladder and washed our block in soft white light.
The warm 8 o’clock light of summer twilight feels like a lifetime ago and the promise of spring is hard to believe. The darkness of this now—the long moment of winter—is heavy, creeping into everything if I let it, including my thoughts. If Twitter is to be believed, there is no good news. Famine and war and cruelty abound.
Closer to home, my feelings are hurt by something small, my hairline is sprouting grays, my belly is growing softer and so are my arms while the lines around my face are deeper, and I have yet to write that book. To say nothing of the loneliness of early middle age in a new town, where friendships require time that does not seem to exist as it once did and the infinite paths of youth now seem frivolous instead of possible.
Even in the now, my boy is learning to add. This baby that started as a single cell, before dividing and multiplying within my very body, can do math. It is startling in its mundane miraculousness.
Our Christmas tree, with its curved trunk that greets me with a slight bow each morning, is covered in ornaments from my childhood hung by my child. The fir tree’s crooked presence in our tidy living room a gentle rebuke against my sordid affair with perfection. A reminder, in fact, that while the wind may have shaped her it could not topple her; I would do well to celebrate this strength instead of twisting the stand to hide her defects.
This summer I ran my first 5k. My parents were in town for the weekend, and so my whole family gathered at the finish line, waiting for me with signs and pom-poms. An out-of-shape introvert’s nightmare. I had to pee a little at the start, and then a lot. Still within eyesight of the starting line, I wet my pants–not a gentle trickle, but a down-to-the-socks kind of dousing.
I wanted to evaporate into the cool, mountain air, but as I was devising a plan of circling back, hiding in the car, and texting my husband, I could hear my son’s preschool teacher—of all people—echoing in my ears: your son learns it is okay to try and fail by watching you. I pictured my boy, already in the grips of anxiety I have passed down, already so nervous to do anything unless he’s sure to succeed, standing at the finish line.
Three miles never felt so long.
When I got there, the first thing I said was, “Mom wet her pants! Can you believe it? But I still finished the race, even though I felt really embarrassed.”
My stoic son looked at me horrified and then smiled. “Really?,” he asked. “Yes, really,” I said, pointing at my discolored running tights.
I had started that race wanting him to see me as capable, crossing the finish line gracefully, but standing next to him I knew this way of humility was better for both of us. Stronger, even.
We do not get to choose how our light impacts others. We do not get a say in what some see as beauty and others call a flaw. We only get the chance to be ourselves.
I thought tonight how sad I would be if the neighbor simply unplugged his lights, and how unlikely he is to know that they mean anything to anyone at all. If this is true of Christmas lights, I suppose it is even more true of us, which makes each singular bulb of light all the more splendid, burning through the cold night air.
CLAIRE CAREY DEERING believes less is more, in writing and in life.